Reader Hugh D. wrote in with this comment:

The San Diego Convention Center Phase I and II were built 100 percent with public subsidies at a cost far more than $300 million. Therefore, why is it unreasonable for public participation to cover 30 percent of the project’s $1 billion cost? And since when does public funding rationalize forced union membership? The deal between the Port and Gaylord was not based on sole-sourcing the construction contract to labor unions which obviously blew the budget. Gaylord did agree to prevailing wages and union service jobs, but discriminating against non-union members should never be allowed on publicly funded projects. Are you a libertarian Scott? Because you seem to be objecting to any public subsidy. I suspect it will be a matter of days before you break that principle and cheer on some other public subsidy or unfunded government mandate.

This is good. Let’s talk about this.

First, no, I’m not a Libertarian. I’m all for spending money. Yay for spending money.

What makes me nervous is spending money without actually having any of it. And so, I don’t like governments borrowing money — hefty chunks of it, actually — without putting that decision in front of the public for a vote.

The San Diego Convention Center, Hugh D. was built with borrowed money after a public vote affirming the deal. Fifty-nine percent of voters in 1983 approved of the loan to build the center. Voters also approved its expansion, in 1998.

Plus, the Convention Center is now publicly owned and operated.

Gaylord was going to get its subsidy without a public vote. And Gaylord is a private company answerable primarily, as it made clear in its letter Friday, to its shareholders.

What frustrates me is to watch governments go more and more into debt to fund these kinds of things, strapping the younger generation with decades of repayment burdens.

You want to build a convention center with public funds? Fine. Go for it. Build an amusement park on top of it. I don’t really care. But you should have to ask taxpayers to ante up to do it.

If you want to give a private company a subsidy to build a convention center in Chula Vista, then the cities that make up the port district should all be asked to raise their sales or property tax. If residents say yes, we want this new convention center so badly, we’re willing to pay a little bit extra for it, then fine, go for it.

But too often, in this city, in this state, our leaders dream about big projects and then they figure out ways to both hide and delay the costs of those projects.

We want to give our public employees the best benefits possible, but we don’t want to raise taxes to do it. We want to build sports stadiums, and libraries, and host political conventions but we never want to talk about how much they cost.

All I’m asking is that when we think about these things, we be honest with residents about how much they will cost and what kind of sacrifices we’ll need to make them happen.

And if somehow it’s more rational just to borrow money without raising anything additional to pay for it, governments should have to at least hold an election and persuade the people to take on debt payments that will last longer than the terms in office of the elected officials who think they’re such good things.

Secondly, I never held that public money should “rationalize forced union membership.” I’d be happy with some kind of commitment from the builders to, in exchange for this sacrifice from local taxpayers, hire local workers at living wages.

And finally, as to the contention that “in a matter of days” I’ll be cheering on another public subsidy despite the principles I laid out above, I’m not sure what to say. I suppose I’d support a publicly subsidized house for myself. It would have to have a pool though. I think, with a pool, I could attract enough out-of-town guests to generate the kind of tourist dollars that would make it a worthy public investment.


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