That is pretty much the choice we face in voting thumbs up or down on a five year one half percent sales tax increase on Prop. D in November. Also throw in reduced Fire and Police services, which also concerns us, if D doesn’t pass.
Last month Mayor Sanders announced that the City was facing a $72Million budget deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2011. As you all know, yearly and sometimes twice a year budget reductions have been going on for a long time- four years in fact. Sanders was unable to close some of our branch libraries and recreation centers two years ago because of the public outcry, but hours and services have been reduced significantly.
Jay Goldstone, the City’s Chief Operating Officer informed the City Council recently that the only thing left is to close some facilities-permanently. It has been noted that “While Mayor Jerry Sanders is seeking 7 percent reductions in police and fire spending, he wants 24 percent cuts in library and park and recreation programs.” Will this be the final curtain for the OB Library, among others?
So yes, folks, the sky is falling-again. But a funny thing happened on the way to placing a five year half cent sales tax increase on the ballot. Sanders was on board with the initial proposition, but Donna Frye ended up being the wild card on the final City Council vote, only supporting the tax if it were linked to reforms. Remember when Frye was running for mayor and she was asked if she would consider raising taxes? Her honest response- that she would entertain that possibility- probably cost her the election. Sanders of course found new taxes unthinkable at the time. It was a touché moment for Frye when she voted against a tax which the mayor supported.
That touché moment opened a Pandora’s box in which the usual stuff flew out from the business community, taxpayers association, libertarians, the U-T and of course Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer. If the increases weren’t tied into “reforms,” they maintained, it could only be viewed as a tax to pay for City employee pensions. So Rome is burning and there was and still is a great deal of fiddling going on…
What would have been a straightforward ballot measure to increase the City revenues- albeit in the form of a regressive tax- has become a protracted discussion about reforms, efficiencies and triggers. The sales tax will not be implemented until certain triggers are met regarding outsourcing city functions, reducing pension liabilities, reducing spending by $73M in each of the five years of the tax, implementing a spending freeze and restrictions on the use of future surpluses.
It is no secret that Sanders and the business interests have been BFF’s for a long time. He appointed a kitchen cabinet comprised of those interests last year, but evidently the relationship went south when the BFF’s brought up municipal bankruptcy as a fiscal option. Sanders and the majority of the City Council want D to pass and they need more buy in from the business community. Our elected representatives responded to this need by “outsourcing” their decision making powers and responsibilities to those business interests.
The problem here is that I am convinced that those interests simply aren’t into government and good governance. Period. If they were, there would be a prohibition against the City throwing tax dollars to private sports teams or cruise lines or other private interests, as part of the required reform measures. Taxpayers are still on the hook for $10M every year to pay for the debt service on Petco Park. You don’t hear much about that, do you?
Nor do you hear any analysis of City salaries and benefits made within the context of the tremendous income equity gap occurring in this country and which our City government payroll now mirrors. We should be talking about the gap between the highest City wage earners- who are the only ones that the public hears about- and the lowest, as well as the loss of middle income jobs within the City. And we should be committed to reducing that gap, not as retribution against the whole workforce, but rather as an admission that the continued growth of income among the highest wage earners and the wealthiest is creating an underclass of the working poor. That mindless growth is not a formula for stimulating the economy nor for maintaining a democracy.
But most of all, the current analysis does not address the gap between city service expectations and the cost of delivering those services to the citizens.
We are one cheap city when it comes to ponying up for services which we value across the board, from District 1 with a median household income of $108,561 to my own District 3 with a median household income of $48, 272. We need to be looking at a stable revenue source that will be there after Prop D sunsets, in five years. The obvious source is a monthly trash fees for single family residences, but now that the Miramar Landfill is up for outsourcing, who knows how that will affect this potential revenue source.
To resolve that revenue gap by outsourcing public services to the private sector instead, at a supposedly lower taxpayer cost, assures new, stable income streams to the business interests while also diminishing any effort to raise their taxes. This is a win-win for only one section of our city, and it is a drastic, ill advised approach to solving the structural deficit.
When I read the comments of those opposed to D and of those interests currently in charge of the reform criteria I must question whether “reform” is really the issue. There is a patently anti-government effort afoot. It is a lie to say this effort is put forth in good faith. Reducing costs and improving efficiencies are one thing. Starving government to death is quite another. The demand for an additional $73M in cuts, every year for the next five years is depraved. By putting our elected representatives and city workforce on the defensive, this movement stands to single-handedly redefine what constitutes the public good and public core services without any honest debate that includes us, the citizens who will be affected most.
I will be voting “YES” on Prop. D. And I will be holding my nose while I do it.
Editor: Note about the writer: Anna Daniels was employed by the City of San Diego for 26 years, working most of those years serving the public at the Central Library information desk. She currently receive a city pension.