Wednesday, April 19, 2006 | Editorial

During the presentation of his first budget proposal to the City Council on Monday, Mayor Jerry Sanders challenged those who question his ambitious $674 million borrowing plan and budget to not “just say no.”

“Don’t raise roadblocks just for sport,” he said.

While there may be some who intend to engage in sport like that, it’s fair to say that objections to the mayor’s plan have so far come, and will continue to come, from those who sincerely think he is on the wrong track.

There are thoughtful people who believe that San Diego faces hard yet simple decisions about whether to raise taxes – and if not, whether city government is nearing insolvency. The mayor has presented a different path, one that was initiated by his predecessor. Some have expressed reservations about it.

These criticisms should not be written off, nor the critics discouraged from participating. If there’s one lesson in the city’s recent history, it’s that creating a culture of quiet acquiescence will produce little more than bad decisions.

Let’s debate. People should be able to argue passionately without worrying that they’ll be branded as either unquestioning followers of the mayor or, on the other side, stubborn close-minded political opponents. We envision a city where the gloves come off when we talk about policy and, while personal attacks are squelched, passionate and uncomfortable debates about crucial decisions like these are common.

During his campaign and his first few months in office, the new mayor stressed the value of that civic discussion. He has an opportunity to depart from a culture created by previous leaders who decided they couldn’t get their job done through open debate. They refused to consider the words of those with different views and instead attempted to marginalize dissidents as a rogue bunch with suspicious motives.

The mayor did not create the problems he has now accepted the mandate to solve. We know that. And as he said Monday, the financial debts City Hall faces will not simply fade away no matter how much we may wish they will.

Whether borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars from Wall Street is a solution or merely a delay of the pain the city faces is a question for which several people have several different answers. Let’s hear them all.

The mayor’s job is not easy and he is clearly proposing a plan to take what he thinks is the best route to fiscal recovery. We commend him for his effort and for the long hours he and his staff have spent developing the roadmap. His proposed budget directs much-needed funds to a crumbling infrastructure and to various public-safety needs. But the budget has inherent risks, which he told the City Council he expects them to consider.

We encourage more than polite considerations. An unforgiving criticism of a person’s proposal is not, by default, a personal attack on that person. And only by hearing the harshest critiques of Sanders’ plan and judging them on their merits will this community decide if it is, indeed, the right one.

He should welcome the challenge and engage in the discussion – if only for the sport of it.

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