Steve Francis had a lot of trouble articulating his position on whether he’ll leave the door open to new or increased taxes for the city. More on that later. But on a couple of other points, he was clear as day and my eyes got big.
Francis took a page from one of my favorite books and said one of the first things he would do is demand that the newly formed Tourist Marketing District , or TMD, take over the financing of the Convention Center.
He also said that downtown redevelopment money should be used to pay the annual debt payments for Petco Park.
These are two immediate policy changes that could save city coffers millions for use on everything from public safety equipment to parks and infrastructure. Francis’ team estimates the savings at $15 million.
They are two different issues as well but both have been given the same cold shoulder.
|Francis may want to look out, the hoteliers won’t be happy.|
That downtown redevelopment funds can pay for the annual debt obligations of the city is an idea that Councilwoman Donna Frye and former banker Peter Q. Davis have floated along with several others. It makes total sense. The ballpark is downtown and downtown funds can be used to pay for it. The Centre City Development Corp. may have dreams about how better that money can be used but the City Council controls that money. They can choose to spend it on a library and other luxuries downtown, but everyone should be aware that they are choosing those things over funds for vital, crumbling infrastructure in other parts of the city.
Francis said he wants to make a different choice.
Now, as for the TMD, Francis was obviously skeptical of its formation. In case you can’t quite place it, the TMD came about when various hotels across the city declared themselves a sort-of virtual neighborhood that could, like Little Italy, vote to levy a special tax on its member businesses.
But the interesting thing about this tax is that it is not a tax on the businesses, the hotels, it’s a tax on the visitors to the hotels. The hotels plan to use the money to pay wholly for promotion of San Diego as a destination. Essentially, the hoteliers found a way to pool resources for a marketing effort and pass the costs — penny for penny — along to their customers without worrying about laws that prohibit businesses from all joining together to raise their prices uniformly (as in price fixing schemes).
This isn’t necessarily bad as long as the new revenues relieve the city of its longstanding commitment to also subsidize the effort to promote San Diego as a destination.
I suggested earlier that things like the museums and arts organizations that the city currently funds could and should now turn to the hoteliers in charge of the new TMD for funds. After all, if their operations do generate enthusiasm for the city as a destination — as has been argued forever — then funding them fits perfectly within the mission of the TMD.
Francis saw a different route to the same end. The city spends millions each year operating the convention center. Perhaps the convention center, another draw to the city, could be funded by the TMD.
If Francis makes it so we can at least talk about things, I’ll be thrilled. As will others who might feel like they’ve been talking to the wall on these ideas.