Proposition D: It’s The End of The World As We Know It

by on October 18, 2010 · 10 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Election, San Diego

San Diego w Coron bridgeOB RAG Local Elections Coverage Part Two

Proposition D proposes to raise sales taxes in San Diego by ½ of one cent, provided that the city government makes good on promises of fiscal reform. Everybody on both sides of this issue agrees that the city government is facing a shortage of funds. And that’s about the only thing they agree on.

A coalition of moderately conservative politicians/business groups and more liberal elements of the city council/union groups are supporting this proposal. The tango that lead up to this alliance between Mayor Jerry Saunders and long-time foe City Councilwoman Donna Frye was especially bittersweet, given that Frye was branded as pro-tax by Saunders in their neck and neck race for the Mayoralty just a few years ago. Now they’re working together, hoping to moderate the impact on public services that a projected $72 million city budget deficit could bring next year. The combination of the new taxes and cost cutting measures will temporarily stabilize the city’s fiscal woes, putting off the day of reckoning, presumably until somebody else is in office.

election sanders frye prop DThe mantra of Proposition D supporters is that we need to trust that they’ll put the reforms in place to (temporarily) stabilize the City’s revenue. It became a whole lot harder to trust these characters in the wake of a backroom deal tied to the State’s budget bill. In the dead of night Mayor Sanders and his developer friends– without the knowledge of either the San Diego City Council or the San Diego City Attorney—inserted language that lifted the cap on funding for the Centre City Redevelopment Project. What this mean, in practical terms, is that the City now has a huge fund that can be used to, among other things, build the San Diego Chargers a new stadium. The secrecy of the deal has poisoned the atmosphere surrounding the status quo coalition. For more on this, visit Pat Flannery’s Blog of San Diego here. It’s a great read.

The opposition to Proposition D is fronted by City Councilman Carl DeMaio, an adamant and sometimes abrasive critic of just about everything having to do with contemporary governance. DeMaio hails from the Grover Norquist school of politics. The campaign against Proposition D is about much more than a simple tax increase for him and his allies. This struggle represents an organizing opportunity for DeMaio, just one step in a process whose objective is nothing less than political dominance of the libertarian right nationally.

By opposing this initiative at the polls, the Councilman hopes to further build an alliance that will gain political control locally, regionally and nationally by weakening the core pillars of the democratic base: labor unions, “big city political machines” dominated by municipal unions, and “taxpayer-funded lobbies” (social service agencies, Legal Aid Societies, and other do-gooders). His next act after this campaign will be to resurrect last year’s failed “Competition and Transparency in City Contracting Initiative”, a cleverly titled ballot measure that was little more than a thinly viewed attack on local labor unions. For my take on their very shady signature collecting process go here.

vote yur futureThe No on D campaign has taken on a decidedly Tea Party flavor, with their recent elevation of “Manny the Printer” to heroic status as an example of a Hillcrest-based small businessman fighting valiantly against the evil powers at City Hall. “Manny” reminds one another Tea Party hero: “Joe The Plumber”. Especially after one reads his blog, wherein President Obama is called a “dictator” and liberalism is called a “disease”.

At the core of the City’s financial difficulties are billions of dollars owed to pensioners who once worked for or currently work for San Diego. The annual payouts are expected to reach $500 million by 2025. It’s easy to play the blame game here and there is plenty of blame to go around. The City got the 1996 GOP Convention and a new Padres ballpark; the employees got a pension system based on economic projections that even a ponzi scheme artist wouldn’t promise. Don Bauder over at the Reader recently published an analysis of just how dire the situation is that sums it up nicely:

With property, sales, and hotel taxes likely to be weak for a long period, there is no way the City can pay these sums, although it will continue to raise fees, slash services, sell assets, cook the books, and perhaps raise sales taxes. Meanwhile, safety workers are retiring at age 50 and 55, some with six-figure yearly pension payments, while other City retirees are getting more than $15,000 a month.

Can this picture get any worse?

Why yes, it can, and is already getting so. That’s because San Diego is a microcosm of the United States. Many other municipalities and states have similar problems, and these pension commitments are considered to be locked in stone legally. Only a bankruptcy court could break the contracts, and any such decision would probably go all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Ergo, this problem will be around quite a while, in San Diego and elsewhere. That will put pressure on the already-ailing federal government to bail out states and cities. San Diego is a woebegone jurisdiction, but it has too much company to count on federal help.

So, to re-state the obvious, the City of San Diego is screwed. And Carl DeMaio’s crew would love to exploit this situation by using people’s dislike of taxes and politicians to create an environment that would allow them to really get started on their road towards dismantling the city government. Their “plan” to “save” San Diego won’t be released until after the election, but chances are it won’t be significantly different that what the Yes on D forces are warning about should the initiative fail: cutbacks in virtually all services—libraries, lifeguards, and public safety.

elections libertarian cartoonThe City government clearly doesn’t deserve to be bailed out with a regressive tax of their quandary by the taxpayers. On the other hand, are you really sure that it’s time to start down the road towards the libertarian paradise the DeMaio’s ilk are seeking? (For those of wondering about what this could be like, see this article about libertarian career opportunities.) The reliably conservative Union-Tribune has decided that having a vision for San Diego is a better option than infrastructure/services destruction in the name of ideological purity. The paper urged voters to say “Yes on D” in a editorial remarkable for the candor in which they explored their decision making process.

vote ballotA “Yes on D” vote is a vote for the status quo. A vote against D is a vote for uncertainty with a side of Tea Party madness. As much as I disagree with Sanders and Company, the specter of the lunacy associated with the far right (and it is impossible to untangle the libertarian and religious threads that make up that movement), means I’ll hold my nose and vote “Yes” on D.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar doug porter October 18, 2010 at 8:30 am

i really meant to give a hat tip in this article to Voice of San Diego for their most excellent on Proposition D. if you’re feeling wonkish or simply want to know more about this battle please visit them here: http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/prop-d/ And I need to stop trying to watch Chargers games whilst typing these articles up.

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avatar tj October 19, 2010 at 6:23 am

NO – not good for SD.

1) Sales tax increases are the most insidious of all – they are regressive. That means they hurt BY FAR the most – those who are in the worst position to pay.

2) Higher sales taxes force money OUT of the community. The higher a sales tax – the more likely one is to seek “alternatives” to local merchants.

3) No matter how much $$$ they get – it will never be enough – guaranteed. Spending will ALWAYS rise to exceed income – that is the nature of government.

Do yourself a favor – just say NO.

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avatar doug porter October 19, 2010 at 9:14 am

1) Agreed with the fact that sales taxes are the most regressive. However any tax that is even vaguely progressive gets branded as a “jobs killer” and faces opposition that does its best to scare the bejesus out of voters.
2) This is simply not true, particularly at the 1/2 cent level.
3) Government is expensive, no doubt about it. And San Diego’s government has a history of really bad decisions. Tell us though, which services are you going to cut first? Libraries? Fire rings? Police? Life Guards?

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avatar JPinSD October 19, 2010 at 11:38 am

Who says those services won’t receive cuts even if this tax is voted in? I’m sick of our government wasting money and making back room deals to offset their own mistakes. The proposition is a blank check for the city…

and to answer the question: fire rings, life guards, libraries and then police….

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avatar Frank Gormlie October 19, 2010 at 11:52 am

Instead of just accepting these cuts, why don’t you actually fight to have these services maintained?

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avatar Andy Cohen October 20, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Because who needs those pesky social services anyway, right? After all, we don’t really NEED public parks; public street and sewer maintenance; streetlight and traffic control light maintenance; lifeguards; police; firefighters; social workers who protect the interests of children in bad situations; jails……..I think the city should just sell off Balboa Park so some developer and come in and build it out. What purpose does it serve anyway? Oh, and those people who go out and clean the trash off our beaches every day? Don’t need ’em. Waste of taxpayer money.

We need to privatize the police and fire departments. That way we can make sure all the deadbeats aren’t making use of services they don’t deserve! What they should be doing when you call 911 with a dire emergency, like a home invasion or a stabbing or shooting incident, is to take your credit card information over the phone (if you even have a credit card–if not, too bad. You’ll have to fend for yourself), then run a credit check to make sure you can actually PAY for the police and paramedics who take the time out of their busy schedule to help you, and THEN consult with a supervisor to determine whether or not it’s cost effective to send out responders. After all, we can’t be wasting money on lost causes.

And if a few people die in the process, well that’s their fault for living in a less than desirable neighborhood. If you want to feel safe, move to one of those gated communities.

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avatar tj October 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Households & businesses MUST live within their means – or go broke.

Government “leaders” refuse to live within ther means – because their is – very little to no accountability, & NO CONSEQUENCES – when they do not do so.

State & local governments cannot “print money” to “rescue” themselfs like the feds do.

Could I fix it- yes. Will I do it for free – no. Will I offer some free sound advice on geting it done within the current system – sure, here you go:

As long as a Governmental body is NOT living WITHIN it’s BUDGET (spending no more than revenue & any accumulated “rainy day” funds) :

1) Elected (& appointed persons holding elected office, commissioners, etc) get NO pay & NO benefits (including no accrual of retirement benefits);

2) Non-represented, management level employees get – 3/4 pay & benefits, for the first 3 months, 1/2 for the next 3 months, & 1/4 from then on;

– (both 1 & 2 above) – until the problem is solved & the budget balanced.

I absolutely guarantee – even the absolute worst fiscal managers among them – will be living within their (“our”) means in no time.

tj

copyright 2010

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avatar Seth October 19, 2010 at 11:12 pm

It’s not so much the political leaders who need to live within their means as it is us citizens. Americans, particularly in Southern California, enjoy the most highly-subsidized lifestyle in the history of humankind, and have one of the lowest tax rates in the Western world. As gross as the financial negligence of some government agencies is, the hypocrisy of us citizens is far worse.

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avatar Goatskull October 19, 2010 at 5:36 pm

I always have mixed opinions about any kind of tax increases. Even when they are hands down no questions asked needed, I always doubt the money will ever be properly distributed for the very cause that necessitated the tax in the first place. Guess I have no faith or trust in any way shape or form for our city leaders.

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avatar Hubcap October 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I agree with Goatskull. Yeah, I know we need the money and I frequently complain that the primary source of many of our governmental monetary woes–especially at the state & local level–is that no-one in a leadership position has the balls to tell people that they have to pay their share of the rent if they want to live here.

But that said, I will never vote for a tax increase because it’s a foregone conclusion that the money will never actually make it to the average citizen in the form of improved government services. No on “D” simply because even though we offer up another half-cent of every dollar to stave off reductions in essential services, they’ll get cut anyway.

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