By Doug Porter
Gosh, it all sounds so good: A 2016 ballot measure raising billions for infrastructure projects by requiring city leaders to devote future growth in sales tax revenue and all pension savings to the problem over the next 30 years.
Councilman Mark Kersey’s plan would not raise taxes. It simply amends the city charter, something requiring only 51% voter approval. What could go wrong?
Plenty. Starting with it’s actually not enough money and ending with cuts to other city services. Which services? That’s up to some future city council to decide. Kersey’s plan is a Trojan horse, painted in cheery colors, with sparkles and googly eyes so voters don’t notice its ‘drown government in a bathtub’ core.
How It Works
From the Union-Tribune:
San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey’s new infrastructure funding proposal got mixed reviews on Wednesday, with some calling it a cleverly crafted solution and others criticizing it as inflexible and “ballot box” budgeting.
Kersey is proposing a June 2016 ballot measure that would require an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion in future sales tax revenue increases and pension savings be spent on infrastructure over the next 30 years.
“San Diegans will never again have to worry about future politicians allowing our city to deteriorate by shortchanging infrastructure improvements and maintenance,” Kersey said while unveiling the plan at a downtown news conference. “This will enable us to replace more roads, repair long-damaged sidewalks, rebuild police and fire stations and replace aging storm drains.”
What Kersey’s plan does is to mandate how future tax revenue increases and the (theoretical, maybe in 15 years) savings from the pension reform program crafted by then-councilman Carl DeMaio. Future elected officials will have their budgeting choices already made for them. Staffing those future police and fire stations might be a problem.
Tax revenues for San Diego increase as the economy expands and the population grows. Currently, the population is growing at a rate of 1.5% annually, the highest rate of growth for any major city in California.
From Voice of San Diego:
Most years, the money the city collects from taxes grows. Kersey wants to tie the hands of future politicians to ensure that a portion of that growth is always set aside for infrastructure in three ways:
- A large percentage of natural growth in sales tax revenues over the next three decades
- Money saved from paying off pension debt over the next three decades
- Half of all natural tax revenue growth over the next 10 years
Liam Dillon’s VOSD article quotes Kersey as saying his plan will pull in “a few hundred million dollars” over the next 5 to 10 years. As of right now we have a $1.7 billion gap between what needs to be done versus cash in city coffers to pay for it over the next five years.
The city government already knows they can’t rely only on naturally growing tax revenues to fix its infrastructure problem, thanks to reports from the independent budget analyst.
So, regardless of the monies raised, the Kersey plan falls short; way short if you look at the $5 billion in additional infrastructure work looming not to far down the road.
So what the ultimate effect of the Kersey plan will be to throw not enough money at fixing infrastructure while limiting funding to provide services to an increasing population.
The city also plans to continue the city’s plans to borrow money without a tax increase to pay for infrastructure repairs, something the budget analyst has also warned is a bad idea, mostly because there’s only so many building that can be mortgaged. And then there are those pesky payments, eating away at day-to-day budget revenues in future years.
So if San Diego needs more cops, librarians or firefighters down the road, the pot to pay for them will be shrinking. This is a lesson Kersey apparently hasn’t learned (Or maybe he has).
Different Mayors over past decades have tried and failed with similar programs, mandating budgetary quotas on public safety and libraries. They failed because demands for other services grew. You could say the “genius” of Kersey’s plan is that future politicians will have their hands tied.
The ultimate “solution” to future budgetary shortfalls for city services will be privatization, forcing the city along the neo-liberal path to a future where the market is the ultimate arbiter of what the public receives –after profits, of course– in return for their tax dollars.
A Question of Accountability
Problems with privatization include the all-too-often effect of one monopoly (government) exchanged for another (private industry). Oversight and accountability get left in the dust of promises of efficiency and cost reduction.
One need look no further than the botched revitalization of 25th Street in Golden Hill, where over a year past the original deadline, private contractors left city streets in such poor condition that small businesses suffered. The mayor showed up for the opening ceremony, but his office was nowhere to be found as piles of rubble sat undisturbed at intersections and parking places.
Regardless of the arguments in favor or against marketplace governance, historically privatization has been accompanied with a lack of goals, performance measures, and the personnel to oversee projects and services. The promised efficiencies of the marketplace are more likely to evaporate, along with distancing the public from being able to “throw the bums out” when thing go bad.
In a nutshell, that’s what the effect will be, should Mark Kersey’s plan triumph. The city council is slated to vote on putting the measure before voters on the June ballot in February.
Councilwoman Sherri Lightner has already announced her support. All it will take is one more Democrat to vote in favor, and the manufacture of consent by the Chamber of Commerce and much of the media will commence.
Gormlie Gets the Hook at OB Cameras Meeting
“Cough, [bullshit], cough” was the utterance from Frank Gormlie’s mouth that got him thrown out of a recent meeting of the OB Planning Board called to discuss and “gather consensus” about police surveillance cameras proposed for the beach area.
It’s a long read, but well worth it, over at the OBRag, where SDFP/Rag editor Gormlie recounts the tumultuous session last Wednesday.
The short version of this story would be that the meeting was more like a sales presentation than a discussion, something along the lines of “the cameras are coming and you WILL like it.”
From the OB Rag story:
Now, I admit that I did let out a burst of a type of immature expression – in the middle of a public meeting. But I was so upset with what was being said – and accepted as truth – by those who are so quick to throw away any rights of privacy that we cling to and still have, that’s its downright frightening. And this made me upset. The meeting had been so one-sided and dominated by camera proponents that I – and others within CAPA – were outraged.
People who should know better allowed this to happen. Haven’t we all read George Orwell’s book “1984”?
Now, a word about the real immaturity exhibited during the meeting. For a chairperson who is a quarter of an hour late to the largest meeting he’s been at, then to allow the meeting to devolve into a situation where one side commandeered the atmosphere, and then to disparage those who have created the forum – this is the true immaturity.
On This Day: 1931 – Protesters staged a national hunger march on Washington, D.C., to present demands for unemployment insurance. 1941 – Pearl Harbor, located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu was attacked by nearly 200 Japanese warplanes. The attack resulted in the U.S. entering into World War II. 1993 – Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested that the government study the impact of drug legalization.
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