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In a rare major speech, Mayor Jerry Sanders this afternoon said the city’s current budget suffers from a $43 million deficit and, for the first time, offered to be a leader in the Chargers’ quest for a new football stadium.

The mayor’s speech, titled “Overcoming Financial Challenges,” warned that he will likely have to cut programs and close popular facilities in order to close a projected $43 million deficit for the current fiscal year, which began July 1 and ends June 30, 2009. The deficit was brought about by decreasing revenues in tourism and property and sales tax, he said.

“In this era of $700 billion bailouts, $43 million may not seem like a lot. But, believe me, for a city that is already on a tight budget, it’s huge. Unlike the kingpins on Wall Street, no one is going to rescue us. We have to rescue ourselves,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks.

Aside from the disclosure of the deficit’s size, the rest of the speech contained few specifics about how the gap would be closed. Sanders said he would be submitting an amendment to this year’s budget soon, but didn’t disclose specifics.

“At this moment I can’t speak to its content, but I will attest to its character: It will meet the problem head-on. It will tell the public the truth. It won’t flinch from the tough decisions before us,” he said.

The speech had the build-up and feel of a State of the City address, the annual January event in which the mayor lays out the year’s agenda. In Sanders’ first three years in office, the State of the City was his only major annual speech.

The mayor, reelected in June’s primary, used this rare address to reassert his commitment to revamp Lindbergh Field, expand the San Diego Convention Center downtown, build a new City Hall and urge San Diegans to cut their water use by 10 percent as mandatory conservation appears imminent.

With the speech coming precisely three weeks before the Nov. 4 election, he also lobbied voters to pass the fire-protection parcel tax Proposition A and stressed the need for allies in the City Attorney’s Office and the City Council.

For the first time, Sanders offered to be a leader in the effort to build a new stadium for the Chargers football team. Since he took office, the mayor has largely stayed out of the stadium issue, saying that he had more important issues to deal with such as the city’s financial crisis.

He said he supports efforts to locate the stadium in Chula Vista. “But if those discussions don’t pan out, it isn’t the final chapter. Other options can be explored, such as a regional approach to accommodating the Chargers, and I’m willing to be a leader in that effort,” Sanders said.

Check back for more later.


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