September 11, 2012 - For the sixth consecutive year, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster sat down with Business Journal staff for a lengthy, in depth and candid interview covering a wide range of issues impacting the city – and on a personal nature: what are his future plans?
He says he plans to announce his decsion on whether to seek a third term sometime after the November 6 election and, hopefully, before the end of the year. In the interview, he admits that he is "struggling" with the decision.
If he chooses to go for a statewide office, a long list of individuals – including several current councilmembers – are expected to battle for the mayor's post in the 2014 primary. If, instead, he opts for a third term, it would be as a write-in candidate. But even as a write-in, Foster would be strongly favored to win another four years.
The two-hour-long interview was conducted at the Business Journal offices on September 6 with Publisher George Economides and Senior Writer Tiffany Rider.
Part of the interview – related to the controversy swirling around the move of the port administration building – is in a separate article in this edition. Read the article here.
LBBJ: From a financial standpoint, is the city better off in the current year or the coming fiscal year, and why?
Foster: It's a better year in a bad environment. That's the way I would describe it. Last year we had about a $20 million gap. I call them gaps; they're not really deficits because we balance our budget every year. This year the gap was close to $16 million. So we are better off from that standpoint. But you have to stand back a little bit. What you want to say is, "What will we look like for the next three years?"
My goal is to try to get the city to structural fiscal balance by the time I end office in 2014. We were well on our way to doing that before the state came in and took money and added new pension costs and what have you. But I still think we have a reasonable chance to get structurally balanced by the beginning of fiscal year 2015. We're more fortunate than other cities. We're better managed. We don't have very much debt, and we have some oil revenue when other cities don't. While it's not a pleasant time to be in local government – it's tough – that's when you have to really be disciplined. I have to give credit to the city council. With rare exception, they have been pretty good at staying fiscally disciplined. We work hard to make sure we do that.
LBBJ: Can you reassure Long Beach citizens that the city is in decent financial shape and that there is no chance of bankruptcy?
Foster: It's not even an issue for Long Beach. Look at the cities that have gone bankrupt. You have Mammoth Lakes. They lost a lawsuit in their little city; $43 million. Look at the pensions and what appears to be pretty gross mismanagement – not even doing audits – in San Bernardino. Stockton has had a lot of trouble with overspending and a lot of debt. We don't have those issues here. We don't have the debt load. We've reformed our pensions with almost all of the employee groups. We've held the line in terms of spending.
If you look at what we've done here, our general fund has less money in it than four years ago. That includes all of the cost increases in all of the contracts with labor. That speaks to the discipline that we've had. . . . We audit all of our income streams. We are a very tightly managed city. It doesn't mean we don't have problems. It doesn't mean we don't make mistakes. But we are nowhere near that issue.
LBBJ: Since the International Association of Machinists (IAM) voted "no" on the proposed contract, what's next? Will you push for a ballot measure?
Foster: Yes. I'm going to have a ballot measure because I said I would. It's that important. It needs to get resolved. I'm very disappointed in IAM. What I tried to do here with all of the employee groups is to get pension reform that would produce immediate savings for the city – certainly with firefighters and police, it has – and yet have little or no impact on take-home pay for the employees.
LBBJ: Did IAM give you a reason why?
Foster: Their management put it out without a recommendation. I think that it's a disservice to the membership. If you're an ordinary person working, you're preoccupied with working and family and everything else. You may not know all of these issues as thoroughly. Leadership has a responsibility to inform their members, and they just said they're not going to make a recommendation here.
LBBJ: The contract is good through September 30, 2013, so are you going to have a measure before then?
Foster: Yes. The idea is to do it in the March or April  timeframe.
LBBJ: So this will be a special election?
Foster: It will be, but you're talking about probably at least [an impact of] $12 million the way we're drafting this.
LBBJ: If you end up with an open seat on the council, could you combine those elections?
Foster: Sure, you could combine them. You try to minimize costs. The cost, if I remember right, is on the order of some $800,000. But you've got a substantial savings here. It's worth the effort.
LBBJ: Is the pension reform you've implemented working as you had envisioned?
Foster: Yes. I think this fiscal year and next fiscal year there will be just about a $10 million annual savings, which equates to about $100 million over 10 years.
LBBJ: What about other cities? Are you setting a model for them to follow?
Foster: I think some other cities have done this . . . we've done everything that we can under PERS [Public Employee Retirement System] rules. We've moved all of our employees except IAM up to their full contribution for PERS. We have a second tier, which is lower. If we can implement all of these changes, including IAM, over a decade it comes to about $240 million in savings.
LBBJ: It's always confusing how CalPERS sets the percentage each year that the city must pay. Aren't we the largest member of CalPERS?
Foster: We are the largest city in the Cal PERS system.
LBBJ: Has there ever been discussion of maybe changing the system?
Foster: We challenge it all the time. The problem is – and this gets into the whole issue of pension reform at the state level – even with the increased requirement – they're like capital calls in business – it's about $7 million a year for us. Every time they change the investment target by 25 basis points, it costs us about $7 million. In addition to that, they have another capital call because their investments have not reached their target. So it's a substantial amount of money. Even with all of that, we are still not keeping pace with the unfunded liability. It's like paying a negative amortization on a mortgage.
What really needs to be done, and what I would hope that would have been done at the state level, is to put some reforms in place that will start making a dent on that unfunded liability. The new tiers will help start bringing that down, but . . . what we really need to do is have the ability to negotiate the unearned pension benefit going forward. . . . What troubles me is the state is not paying enough attention to the unfunded liability, and most of the things they did will have very little effect on that. They've done some good things. The pension package that was passed has some positive elements in it, but if you're a city that already took up the fight to do pension reform, it doesn't do much for you.
LBBJ: What could the city council do to help increase revenues? Are any ideas being examined?
Foster: Well, we can't print money.
LBBJ: You're not the Federal Reserve?
Foster: You know, we do look for revenue where we can find it. This council always looks at the price of oil. But one of the things that we did about four years ago was Becki [Ames, the mayor's chief of staff] and I went up to Sacramento on Labor Day. We were able to get legislation – and the agreement has finally been struck – to have enhanced oil recovery in the Wilmington area; not to expand the field.
We have two problems with oil. One is a very volatile price, so you really want to be conservative about what price you use. But the other problem is you have declining production. What this holds the promise of is that in the near future, maybe three or four years, you'll start having that production come up again and either go back to a healthy level or even go above that. It's hard to predict. So that will be more barrels of oil at whatever price you have. There will be more dollars coming into the city. I think that will happen in the future. So that's one thing.
The truth is, you don't have much in the way of tools to go out and get revenue. The best thing you can do is try to attract business here and try to be a business-friendly place. But short of putting a tax measure on the ballot, it's pretty hard to [increase revenues]. We can do things like how we looked at our parking tickets. We weren't doing a good job of collecting on them. We're going to do that. And we're looking for areas where we haven't been as efficient as we should have been in fines. We'll look at that. But for really big numbers, I'm not in favor of increasing taxes. Not in this environment, and certainly not until we've completed reforms.
LBBJ: The unemployment rate in Long Beach remains high – 13.1 percent in July. Does the city have a plan to put more people to work or encourage employers to hire more people through the Long Beach Jobs Strategy?
Foster: Let me be really candid. You have precious little in the way of tools to try to affect employment. The State of California probably took the biggest one away, which was redevelopment. But what you can do, and what we have done, is try to make this place very attractive for business. We have had Ignify move here. A guy in my golf tournament who had a business in Bellflower just moved it to Long Beach with 70 employees. And Airgas moved in. So what you want to do is try to attract a new business here because that has a multiplier effect.
What we can do is try to be as efficient as we can in our permit process. This has kind of gone unnoticed, but we just centralized our permits. It's a one-stop shop. You don't have to bounce around from fire to health to this to that anymore. If you're going for a permit, there's one central location and we're looking at ways in which we can make that even more convenient. I've heard a lot of good comments about how much better it is than it was before.
The other thing we do is we talk directly to people and say, "You have the mayor's number, and if you need help we'll do it." . . . You have to wrap your arms around people and say you're going to be there as their friend and you're going to help them; you're going to facilitate their coming here. . . . And you can link up, as we have, with the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Center to be able to get training and then take your capital projects in the city, as we have with Middle Harbor and with the airport. We're going to do it informally with the [Gerald Desmond] bridge, because of federal rules, and try to get local hires in those jobs and get a feeder system with the Pacific Gateway center.
The center facilitated over 3,000 jobs for people in Long Beach. We're connecting with the community colleges to provide training. This is so you can convince businesses thinking of moving here that we have a ready-made workforce of trained people. . . . When I was elected, the most common complaint was that the city is hard to deal with. People were so focused on the regulatory side of it and not on the facilitating side of it. Look, if you can get somebody started faster, then property tax gets started faster. Wake up! It makes a difference. I've stayed on city management to make that change, and we finally have this one-stop shop. It will be remarkably better for people. But you have to be vigilant, because it's really easy to fall back into old patterns.
Redevelopment And Development
LBBJ: Now that you've had a chance to reflect on the loss of the redevelopment agency, do you feel the governor and the legislature did the right thing?
Foster: I'm going to try to contain my emotion. No. I think it's one of the more foolish policy decisions they have made. They took away the last remaining tool for job creation and economic development in the State of California – a state that has really ignored economic development and takes it for granted and is reaping the benefits of that attitude. They removed it, and why did they remove it? Because they needed to mark in the budget bill $1.7 billion. They will not get $1.7 billion. They're likely to get $600 or $800 million one time.
LBBJ: That's it?
Foster: Yep. What they did for that was they sacrificed the future. I just don't understand it. I don't understand how our representatives could support it, except for Rod Wright. It was a great disservice to the city.
LBBJ: Do you think they understand it now? Do they get it?
Foster: No. I can tell you the governor doesn't. I can tell you most of our Sacramento representatives don't. I think one of them understands that there are consequences to what was done. To me, it was really turning your back on the city you're from. That's what I believe. In the beginning, it was going to go to education. It never wound up that way.
LBBJ: It didn't go to education?
Foster: No. It's one-time anyway. . . . When you had redevelopment, you could go in and you could fix a street, really renovate a block and attract business. You can't do that today.
LBBJ: How are we replacing those funds for the work that needs to be done?
Foster: We're going to have to try to be creative and come up with a replacement for it, but we're going to have to do it on our own. We are giving thought to what we can do to replicate or at least partially replicate redevelopment. One of the good things is that not all of the old projects are gone. Some of them are gone, but we've completed a lot of them. What the successor agency and the oversight board will do with what we've put before them as in-process commitments is, hopefully honor them. In return, we will give them all of our unencumbered cash. We're hopeful that the projects we have in progress will be approved. But once those are done, then we are going to have to rely on some other way to do this.
LBBJ: There has been talk about PBIDs (property based improvement districts) in the 6th and 9th Council Districts. Is that a possibility for replacing redevelopment?
Foster: I don't see how. Unless you can get tax increment or some other funding source where you could actually pay for some of the redevelopment you have to do, either taking out businesses that are dilapidated or to fix infrastructure, that's real money. I'm certainly willing to explore things. I'd like to see how it works and what the mechanism is. If we can find a way in which to generate economic development in an area and can do it efficiently, I'm willing to look at that.
LBBJ: Is it legal or appropriate to go to ABC developer and say, "We're going to give you the property if you raze that motel and build on it and improve it?" Is that something that can be done?
Foster: You can't give it to them. You can at a low price or on a long-term lease. Redevelopment did a lot of that. You have a couple schools of thought on this. On the one side, you have, without really understanding how redevelopment works, people saying, "I'm not going to give money to developers." Well then how are you going to get people to develop areas in the city that are blighted? There is no other way to bring development in and recreate your city other than trying to give some incentive. Now, to be candid, redevelopment was also abused in many areas. Not here. This is well before me. Long Beach did a great job of being honest about what they did with redevelopment. The loans were not at exorbitant interest rates, they didn't violate the rules, they didn't play games with blight. It was a very up-and-up process. There were other cities that didn't do that, that did abuse the process, and it did need to be reformed. But not eliminated.
LBBJ: One of the few opportunities we have is a public-private partnership.
Foster: Yes. That we can try to do. It's what was done at the courthouse downtown. We were very involved in that courthouse project.
LBBJ: If we had a barrel full of money, $20 million or $30 million, and we gave it to you, what would you do with it?
Foster: Me, personally?
LBBJ: For the city.
Foster: I think, for the most part, I would use money like that for infrastructure improvement . . . we're behind on our storm water systems, our streets, our sidewalks, some of our public buildings. I think those things really need to be improved. I'd like to sit down and think of what other uses there might be, but it would be a nice shot in the arm.
LBBJ: Any thought of revising the parcel tax on a different level?
Foster: I've thought about it. I still think it needs to be done. It would probably be done on a smaller scale. Look, the problem is we got a little bit of a reprieve from the stimulus. We took every dollar we could from the stimulus that was legitimate to use for infrastructure. We didn't go out and spend it on stuff that didn't help you build more commercial activity in the future. That kind of helped us, but that's gone. I suspect that no matter who wins this [presidential] election, you're going to see less money coming from Washington. So, down the road we ought to have a public discussion on what we want our city to look like. I would like it to be not only well run, but I'd like it to look good. I'd like its roads and public facilities to be as good as they can be for no other reason than it attracts people and businesses here.
LBBJ: You are in your sixth year as mayor. Has the makeup of the city council changed much in its role of representing the citizens of Long Beach?
Foster: I don't think its role has changed. I think councilmembers, by and large, do a good job of representing their areas. What I try to continually remind them is you don't build a city by just taking care of one district. You have to have an overall view, a citywide perspective, at least on occasion. I think they do a good job of that. For me, this has been a council that I can work with that has done a pretty good job of staying disciplined. There have been disagreements. There always will be disagreements. Not everyone, but most people on the council have been pretty solid, particularly on being fiscally disciplined.
LBBJ: Last time we talked about this you said there had been some surprises, that councilmembers had done things without talking to you about it. Has that lessened?
Foster: I don't remember the context, but it doesn't happen too often. To be candid, there are a couple of councilmembers that I don't talk to very frequently who have different perspectives and maybe different motives than I have. Sure, they will occasionally do things to shock you or what have you. But, for the most part, it's a good group.
LBBJ: But your door is always open, right?
Foster: Absolutely. They all have my cell phone number. I never refuse to talk to people. It's just not who I am.
LBBJ: In the past you've indicated that you would like some charter changes implemented, such as combining departments. Have you given up on any changes?
Foster: No, I haven't given up. I think the only one we tried was the civil service department. To be candid, we're the only city left, in my judgment, that has a civil service commission and a civil service department and a human resources department. It's not an effective way to work. We've worked around it. No one is trying to remove the civic service commission, but in the attempt to try to consolidate it people made that claim, that we were somehow going to take rights away from civil servants. That was never in the proposal, never clearly the intention.
We'll look at it again, but I think, given the limited resources, now we've been able to work around it. It really should just be an adjudicatory body. If someone wants to come in and say, "I've been damaged as an employee," or rights have been violated, we should have a quasi-judicial proceeding in which they can get those claims aired. It shouldn't be running an HR department. It's not equipped to do that. HR has modern rules. There's an enormous body of law at state and federal government governing HR. You don't really need a civil service department.
LBBJ: If you go to the ballot on the IAM issue, wouldn't that be a good time to piggyback with this?
Foster: I don't want any distraction. For me, I want this issue. What happens is the more you put on a ballot, potentially, people get confused. I would like the citizens of Long Beach, all the residents, to look at pension reform and ask if they want it or not.
LBBJ: Now that you've had a good opportunity to experience how our form of local government is working, how would you tweak it? Do you want a vote? Do you want fewer councilmembers?
Foster: No, no, no. I'm a student of the founding of this country. I don't believe in mixing the executive and legislative functions. To me, that doesn't make any sense. The structure we have has a separate mayor that is the executive function. You have a council that does the legislative. I know, I still run the council meetings. The only thing I would tweak right now would be to try to prevent the State of California from taking more money by giving us more unfunded mandates. I would like to have them leave us alone. That would be a breath of fresh air.
LBBJ: You can't do that legislatively, right?
Foster: Well, Prop 22 was a start, where it said you can't take lower governments' money. I think, in part, some of the retaliation in redevelopment is related to that. But we work with the League of Cities and other bodies. If you ask me how I would tweak it, the things most dangerous for the residents of Long Beach is the State of California coming in here and either taking resources from us or giving us responsibilities without any money. Realignment is a great example. We knew that from the very beginning. They told us, "We're going to change government. We're going to give local government more responsibility and more authority." They did that, but they didn't give the resources along with it. It was just a way of being able to have the state free itself of obligation but keep the money that it had to implement that obligation. You can talk to almost anyone involved at the local level and they will tell you that's what they did. It's very cynical.
Two Local Measures On The November 6 Ballot
LBBJ: There are two local measures on the November 6 ballot. Have you taken a position on either of them?
Foster: I'm on the ballot arguing against the moving of the election. It's myself, [City Auditor] Laura Doud and school boardmembers.
LBBJ: And your primary reason for that is . . .
Foster: I think this is an attempt by forces outside the city to change our structure, to get a foothold here, to really do things that will enable them to potentially take over . . . this doesn't change the school board election, so it's going to cost us more money. So in addition to all of those things, it's going to cost us at least $1.2 million to change these elections. I also think it takes the focus away from civic issues, on Long Beach issues, because now you're caught up in all of the state and national elections. I think it removes the municipal focus. I think it's started by people outside this city who would like us to resemble a city near us rather than who we are.
LBBJ: There's also a huge gap between primary and general. It's going to take a long time . . .
Foster: To be candid, I'm never going to take the side that says, "Oh, those poor candidates! They'll be out there for three or four more months." I mean, come on.
LBBJ: Well, it is draining . . .
Foster: People get fatigued in elections. Let's take something like the civil service issue. Do you think that when you've got the presidential election and congress and senate and state issues and state propositions and way down at the bottom you have this thing on the city – do you think people are going to pay attention to that issue? Do you think they're going to understand it? Their attention is diverted.
Even then, one of the problems here is that it will cost us more, beyond what I said, because the county may not consolidate the ballots. They may say we still have to run our own election. The county has yet to change its voting system, so all of those participating in the county system in the future are going to get a pretty good-sized bill. The estimates are at about $150 million to put in a new voting system. Who do you think is going to pay for that? This is a bad idea. It is a bad idea.
LBBJ: What about on the council? Is it split?
Foster: I think you've got Mr. Neal, Mr. Austin and Mr. Garcia in favor of it. Read their ballot argument. I think their argument does not make any sense.
LBBJ: Let's put that aside for a second and talk about how we improve voter turnout. If this isn't going to do it, is there another way to do it?
Foster: Excuse me. Can we just stop and ask what we are trying to do? Voters will turn out if they are interested. If they're not interested, what should we do? Should we start paying them to vote?
Foster: But why? What do you want to do that for? We did the reform in 1986 consolidating the city and school board election to increase voter turnout because the school board elections were getting only 6 percent or 8 percent turnout. So we had reform in, I think 1986, and now we're going to undo that reform under some theory of voter turnout? I would rather have people focused on issues that matter to them.
LBBJ: Understood. But pushing the measure aside for a second, how do we increase voter turnout?
Foster: I'm kind of old school on this. I think people vote because they are interested. I would love to see more voter turnout. I'd like to see more people interested in civic affairs. But most people are so busy in their ordinary daily lives that they don't pay attention to this. I can't make them do that.
LBBJ: One of the issues in city council races has been that people are running unopposed.
Foster: That doesn't happen too often.
LBBJ: In this last election only one of four councilmembers ran unopposed. But four years ago three of the four seats were unopposed.
Foster: So now you want induced opposition? What are you saying here?
LBBJ: If you have to wait eight years to vote in a city council election, people lose interest.
Foster: That's our system. I can't go out and find candidates to run. Nobody can do that. Do you know how hard it is for a person who has their own business or who has a job. . . who wants to do this? Go look at the blogs. I never look at them, but you get stuff said about you, your family, your dog, about everything, and it's all out there. Most people say they don't want to put up with that. If you really want to improve voter turnout and have a better field of candidates, let's start by making sure we're civil about our public discourse. Let's introduce civility back into the equation.
LBBJ: Maybe we need to pay more. Maybe we need fewer councilmembers.
Foster: Let me pose this to you. We went from a part-time legislature to a full-time legislature. Did we get better quality candidates? I don't know. I'm just asking. This is a problem everywhere. It's a function of modern life. It really is.
LBBJ: What about Oregon? Should we go all-mail ballots? Would that help?
Foster: I haven't thought that through. The one thing I know I'm not in favor of is instant runoff voting. I don't know about Oregon.
LBBJ: Let's talk about the living wage proposal.
Foster: I'll tell you where I'm at on that. I really have an aversion to trying to use government laws or edicts to try to do your collective organizing or bargaining. That really bothers me. I really think this is what that is. It is an attempt to force hotel owners into collective bargaining agreements. They are offering a substantial increase for people who work in hotels. I'm not saying they don't deserve it or don't earn it, but when you start comparing to other functions performed in society and you say, "Do those things match up?" I don't know. But the real issue for me is I don't like what looks a lot like holding a gun to somebody's head and saying, "I want you to negotiate." That really bothers me.
LBBJ: Do you think this would be a stepping stone, if it passed, to go after restaurants?
Foster: I don't know. For me, in principle, it is not a good thing to do.
LBBJ: Is Long Beach considered a leader in cleaning up the environment?
Foster: Without a doubt. I think if you look at the things that we've done in the last five years, for example, you can start with the port, which has done an awful lot with the active cooperation of the city. Pollution in the port has been reduced 70 peercent from 2005 levels. It's the green port policies, the green trucks program. They really have had a more dramatic effect than anyone had thought. We are now at a level where every truck in the port is going to be a 2005 or newer truck, dramatically reducing particulates and emissions from diesel engines. There are about 1,000 trucks of the 11,000 that are natural gas fueled, and those trucks are obviously even a little bit cleaner. So certainly we have done a great job there.
If you look at the airport, the airport modernization is a LEED building. It's got solar collectors on the roof. They're using recycled materials. They should qualify for a LEED platinum building when they're done. We've done things with bikes to encourage bicycling. We've got the Bikestation, the bike lanes. We've been recognized as a bike-friendly city. Our new public buildings are LEED certified. I think you look around and we've done a pretty remarkable job. When I took over, we had enormous problems with water quality. We've worked very closely with people who had before been adversaries, like Heal The Bay. Our report card is much better. We were able to change our storm water systems to get diversion in the sanitation system so that we don't get that bacteria or runoff into our waterways. We've done a remarkable job there. We've put debris diverters and bacteria traps in the storm drains up river from us. A good part of that was federal money, but we all joined in to try to remove the stuff that is coming down the river to us. And we've redone the Colorado Lagoon. We've done remarkable things here.
LBBJ: Would you consider this to be one of the signature achievements in your six years?
Foster: Yes. I do. We really pushed hard on the clean trucks program. We didn't let it get diverted for political reasons and some employment issue. We stood firm on that. We worked hard to make sure there was a clean trucks program. But when it first came out, if I remember correctly, there wasn't a truck component in that program. So the port has done a great job. I give the port a lot of credit for that. They really have worked hard at this. They have embraced this.
LBBJ: Complete this sentence: I love Long Beach because . . .
Foster: I know this is going to sound really corny, but this is the best community that I have ever lived in. I love this place because it is a real community. It's a big city but it has a small city feel. It's got great diversity. It's got a lot of energy to it. People are, on the whole, kind to one another. It doesn't have the kind of traffic problems and crowding you have in places like Los Angeles. I think it's a real community, and I love it.
The Future For Bob Foster
LBBJ: What does the future hold for Bob Foster?
Foster: I'll make a decision this fall whether or not I run for a third term. I may choose to run for another office. I don't know. I have to think about that. And I may choose to do something entirely different.
I struggle with two things, one being that I am very conscious of my mortality. I'm conscious that, with luck, I have 15 active years left. Maybe. Just about that. And how do I want to spend them? Do I want to concentrate on things that are probably more for me and for my family, or do I want to use whatever talent I think I have and where I think I can help, to do that for public purposes?
It's a tough choice. I'm struggling with it. I've enjoyed being mayor. I've enjoyed my time here. I think I've got a record of decent accomplishment. I would like to make sure that I finish that out. I may want to try to do something on a larger scale, because I'm very concerned about this state. I think this state is in a lot of trouble. I think it's complacent in a lot of areas that it hasn't even felt the impact of yet.
LBBJ: The only way you could have the kind of impact that you want to have would be to be governor.
Foster: If you could make me governor tomorrow, I could do that. Honestly, I think about that. A lot of people have talked to me about doing it. It's a very difficult path. You have an incumbent, for one, who I think is going to run again. It depends on what happens with the taxes, but I think he will. I've known him for a very long time. I get along with him pretty well. We have disagreed. I've known him since he was in office the first time.
LBBJ: Do you have enough statewide appeal or recognition?
Foster: No, I don't have recognition. The only way you're going to know if you're going to be successful is if you just do it. . . . The truth is, if you think you can really make a difference and you're motivated to do that, I don't care who is running. What, you're going to be scared out of a race because someone is running? No. Look, I speak very plainly to people. I'm not motivated by politics. I'm a horrible politician. I don't self-promote. I don't do stuff that's going to make me look good. I actually study issues. I do that substantively, and I care about them, and I won't be moved if I think something is wrong. I won't. I'm not going to do it.
Look, if you had a regular politician in that clean truck program, they would have folded right away, saying, "I'm not going up against the Teamsters. I need them for the future." I didn't do that. And I won't do that.
I think there needs to be a cultural change in this state. I think this state has a cultural antipathy toward business that needs to change. It needs to change fairly rapidly or we are not going to be the place to come to. We're not. If I decide that's what I want to do, I don't care who's running.
LBBJ: Are you happy with the direction we are moving?
Foster: Yes, generally. I mean, it's not pleasant to cut back services. But I see a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not a train. I really do think it's within our reach to get the structural balancing in. Then we have to try to concentrate on rebuilding some of the things we really need. I would like to pay more attention to infrastructure, public safety, police.
Look at where we were. Think about that. The city actually functions pretty well. We had 700 positions we cut over 5 or 6 years. And that's not pleasant but you have to do it. If you look at the things that have been done to make this place really be more principled and, I think, not only be fiscally disciplined but also be careful with how you spend the public's money, I think it's much better. Yes, is it hard and not unpleasant? Sure. But it's a much more efficient and much more effective place.
LBBJ: Do you think there is still room to improve?
Foster: There's always room to improve. I think we're getting to the point where resources are getting pretty scarce and you're cutting things you really don't want to cut. And remember, we're still not applying anywhere near what we need to for infrastructure. But if we get all the reforms done, I think we'll be in a pretty good place. I think there are a few other potential things out there that can bring in more revenue and make things a little easier. And I would hope that whoever is here is a bit disciplined about that. Don't do what we did around 2002 where we had this big surplus with no pension contributions. Put some of that money aside.
LBBJ: That's one of the concerns that we hear from people, that is, if you don't run for a third term they're really concerned with who follows you. Will they have the fiscal discipline you have shown?
Foster: Well, that's very flattering. But sooner or later you've got to pass the torch. And I'd be happy to help at that point, whoever is in there.
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