Last night, like the Union-Tribune, I tried to cobble together sources to confirm a swirling set of whispers that Mayor Jerry Sanders was trying to build consensus around a recovery plan.

It’s ambiguous and I don’t know everything but several City Hall sources have confirmed the plan would include the outsourcing of Miramar Landfill’s operations, perhaps some reduction in employee costs and an increase in the city’s sales tax.

If it’s just that, it’s not going to set the city on the track to Happy Land, but maybe it is the start of what I’ve long been hoping for: A grand, comprehensive, fiscal recovery plan — a plan we could do outside of bankruptcy court.

Darren Pudgil, Mayor Jerry Sanders’ spokesman, would only tell me this in an e-mail:

As you know, the mayor has said that solving the structural deficit is his highest priority. He has also said he will explore every possible solution. To reduce costs we are, among other things, considering getting out of the landfill business, and continuing to pursue reforms to the pension system and retiree healthcare.

The phrase “every possible solution” leaves a lot to the imagination and confirms that the mayor is obviously still skittish to utter the word tax even in the context of a recovery plan. But what apparently makes this push different is the fact that the Mayor’s Office has signaled some kind of willingness to discuss a tax increase for the first time since Sanders took office in 2005.

The U-T went so far as to say he’s “considering” it but Pudgil steadfastly refuses to go there. Whatever he is doing it has left City Hall abuzz.

Councilman Tony Young would not confirm any conversations and said only what he has told me for a while now:

“We should, as I’ve always said, have everything on the table but we also have to show the public that we are cutting the fat, restoring services and have the proper controls in place so the problems of the past won’t repeat themselves before we talk about any type of revenue.”

And he added this. “Whatever we do to eliminate the structural deficit has to be comprehensive and it has to have a united front.”

As loyal readers might remember, for quite some time now, I’ve been pushing the mayor and City Council to embark on discussions just like this in an effort to build a comprehensive municipal recovery plan — one that would prove to residents that cuts had been made and efficiency found while also legitimately considering new fees and taxes. Without that, the city will continue to dissolve (but it will have a great downtown library!).

On the right, I’ve encouraged fiscal conservatives to draw a line and actually say what they believe must happen to allow them to support new revenues to the city. They always say they won’t talk about new taxes until we’ve achieved employee pension reform, caps on retiree health care and outsourcing — but none of them have ever actually said where that needs to go.

On the left, I’ve encouraged labor leaders to admit that taxpayers have legitimate cause to feel insulted. Deals to dramatically enhance already very respectable pension benefits were jammed through scandalously and without anyone caring to identify where funding would come to pay for them. The city is not incorporated just to pay its employees.

Some kind of combination of employee compromises and revenue increases would surely go a long way to restoring service levels and fixing the kinds of things that should embarrass us all as residents of a beautiful city.

Now, as to this particular chatter, I’m not sure what to think and we need some details. I can’t imagine, for instance, how the residents will react if they’re asked to both approve a tax increase and a plan to construct a new City Hall no matter how needed it is.

Also, San Diego City Schools has been openly (imagine that!) discussing a new parcel tax of perhaps $98 per parcel that would certainly be competitive or perhaps mutually destructive with a city tax measure.

But that’s horse race stuff. How about whether it’s the best policy? We should begin a major discussion about it all.

This is the mayor’s moment. If he truly wants to leave this city stronger than when he began his tenure, he must seize the chance to bring all parties to the table and clearly communicate why it is right for employees to give up this, why it’s right for taxpayers to give up that and how our roads, parks, libraries, businesses and residents will benefit if they do.

Otherwise, we can just keep marching toward municipal mediocrity. Or worse.


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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