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I just noticed that in the same issue of the San Diego Opera magazine I highlighted below, County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price is listed as a “Bravissimo Angel Patron.”

Wow. Sounds nice.

What did she do? She’s listed as one of the top five annual “donors,” who gave more than $100,000 to the opera. Turns out, she didn’t actually donate anything of her own.

Each county supervisor, of course, has that $2 million-per a year slush fund of taxpayer dollars that they can hand out however they like. Out of that pot of cash, Slater-Price gave a total of $350,000 last year in taxpayer funds to the opera.

And, yes, she got her picture in the magazine too. But unlike the mayor and City Council, she didn’t have to share the page with any other county leaders.

She’s the only taxpayer who got her picture on the big thank you, but at least in this ad, the organization remembered to also thank the county of San Diego as a whole.

Maybe that’s because County Supervisor Bill Horn also gave the opera $80,000 in taxpayer funds from his own slush account.

That means that, between the county and city, the San Diego Opera received $886,000 in taxpayer funds last year. The state and other local cities also contributed.

  • Reader Welton Jones (the former U-T theater critic?) sent in this comment to my last post:

OK pal, what’s YOUR suggestion on how to fund culture in our community, huh? Potshots at programs that work and that are supported by taxpayer input are easy but cheap shots. What’s harder is to propose an alternate approach that works better. Your move.

If you remember, I’m trying to keep my skepticism about whether taxpayers should even fund the opera out of this. It’s an age-old debate: spending public money on the arts. I just took exception to the organization slathering praise on specific politicians for handing over taxpayer dollars.

The more lavish the praise, the more it looks like a politician has successfully used tax dollars to promote his or herself in a campaign — like the infamous rolling billboard for Supervisor Ron Roberts.

I just want it to be clear that it’s not Pam Slater-Price or Jerry Sanders who are donating to the opera — taxpayers are paying for it. If the community wants to spend its money this way, fine.

So what’s my alternative? The county and city spend millions on various advertising campaigns. They are billboards pushing us to recycle; radio spots telling us not to dump our refrigerators in duck ponds; television commercials telling us not to drink and ride ponies; and magazine ads advising that, if there’s an emergency, we need to run around screaming as loud as we can; etc.

You know what I mean. All of the legitimate public service advertisements governments do cost money.

Slater-Price, Roberts and the mayor should insist that if they give taxpayer money to organizations like the opera — or the mobile health clinic — rather than put up a big smooching ad for them, the grateful organization should, instead, host one of these legitimate public service announcements.

A move like that would eliminate the concern that these kind of taxpayer donations are made more for the personal reputation of the elected leader than for “culture in our community.”

SCOTT LEWIS

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