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Monday, Feb. 24, 2008|OK, I’m going to make it a regular habit to highlight great local election information resources on the web. I just came across an entertaining one — no pun intended as it’s about the arts.

As you know, I’ve harped for a while about the cash the financially strapped city sends over to arts and sports organizations in the city. Just before he became an official candidate for mayor, businessman Steve Francis began to riff on the point. He argued several times that it was unconscionable for the mayor to not support giving firefighters a raise of 2 percent but still signing off on the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the San Diego Opera and other organizations get each year.

Anyway, the San Diego Performing Arts League has done everyone the service of asking all the city’s candidates about arts issues and publishing their responses.

So, would the candidates waver when pressed about whether the troubled city should keep funding the opera?

See their responses for yourselves here. I’ll outline some highlights.

The league asked all the candidates the same question:

Are you aware of the source of funding for the Commission? Yes___ No___ Five years ago the City of San Diego, through its Commission for Arts and Culture, invested one cent of the ten and a half cents of Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) in arts and culture. Will you support restoring and dedicating the City’s allocation of one cent of TOT to arts and culture? Yes___ No___

The arts seemed to be an obvious thing to support. All of the candidates, for example, running to replace Toni Atkins in the District 3 saw no problem with the funding going to the arts organizations. All, that is, except James Hartline, the virulent anti-homosexual fringe candidate who suggested that any business working with the city should be required to donate to support the arts. Stephen Whitburn’s response was not available so I’ll have to call him.

Also, the District 1 candidates who responded, Democrat Sherri Lightner and Republican Marshall Merrifield, were both united in their unquestioned support for continued funding. Nothing from presumed front-runner Republican Phil Thalheimer.

But Mayor Jerry Sanders wasn’t quite so sure. He refused to check “yes” or “no” to the question of whether he would support restoring the allocation of one-cent of the TOT to arts and culture.

Here’s his elaboration on the non-answer answer:

We are trying to regain the ability to provide the one cent allocation, but at this time our financial constraints are preventing us from doing that.

And holding true to his word, Sanders’ opponent, Francis, didn’t leave much room for subsidies for the arts organizations under his administration.

Unfortunately, due to Jerry Sanders’ lack of action at City Hall and inability to control our finances, San Diego now faces a $32 million budget deficit and more than a $300 million structural deficit over five years. This has exacerbated pressures throughout all city departments and services, including funding for the arts and important cultural programs. I will bring a realistic approach to setting our city’s finances back on track. As Mayor, I pledge to be an active supporter of our arts community, and will provide private fundraising leadership and logistical assistance as requested.

But both mayoral candidates seem to imply that if San Diego starts swimming in cash in the future, the subsidy spigot will be opened. Translation: Got to love the arts, but we’re broke, sorry. It bears mentioning that the mayor has done little to cut the subsidies to the cultural organizations during his time in office.

Finally, I found the responses in the District 7 City Council race intriguing.

Rather than answer each question directly on the form, accountant April Boling, the Republican running to replace Jim Madaffer, wrote a letter in response to the questions that included this — a good point:

I believe that San Diego is, indeed, a cultural destination. As such, the city generates revenue from tourists who either visit us because of cultural amenities or remain longer as a result of those opportunities. When assessing the impact of public funding for the arts, it is reasonable to request a projection of the return on that investment (ROI).

If I’m reading it right, that means she might still support funding but only after the economic benefits of the allocation can be proven.

Boling’s rival, Marti Emerald, had no such nuances:

When 1 cent translates to $442 million in revenues — it’s a no brainer!!

I think this one’s definitely a brainer. With the city in trouble financially, should the city either dramatically cut funding to sports and arts organizations in town or, if not, should a new funding stream be championed? If you say no to both: What should be cut instead to make room for the subsidies? It’s not an easy question to answer. What would you say?

SCOTT LEWIS

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