Details are emerging in San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye’s plan to tie cost-cutting reforms to a tax increase as part of a ballot measure voters would see in November.

In a brief interview this morning, Frye said she was seeking support for a ballot measure that would include cost-cutting benchmarks that would need to be met before taxes would increase. Benchmarks she wants included are related to pensions, outsourcing and retiree health care.

“If those things aren’t done, then the tax would not trigger,” Frye said. “There would be specific things that would have to happen.”

It’s still uncertain exactly how the plan would work, and Frye said she would want a public debate on it before it’s final. Frye said she’s involved Mayor Jerry Sanders in the discussions, talking with city Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone. The mayor is publicly opposed to a sales tax, but has had private discussions involving one for weeks. Earlier today, Frye requested a special council meeting.

Council is facing an Aug. 6 deadline to place any item on the November ballot. Yesterday, Frye killed a ballot measure on a half-cent sales tax increase saying the city needed to package reforms with raising revenues.

Council President Ben Hueso said he remained interested in a ballot measure and had directed his office to continue negotiations. He said the urgency to address the city’s longstanding financial problems remained “critical.”

“It will be critical a year from now, too, if it’s not resolved,” Hueso said.

Serious legal complications face any comprehensive reform proposal reaching the ballot in such a short time. State labor laws require unions to negotiate. Other state laws require ballot propositions to only have a single argument. Cost-cutting triggers also need to be defined.

But City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said there was time to develop a plan if the council and mayor were willing.

“You can’t reform the city in three or four days,” Goldsmith said. “But you can give people options.”

One option, he said, would be to have voters decide in a later ballot proposition whether the city had met the reform conditions outlined in November’s ballot proposition. That would in effect require the city to pass a tax increase twice.

Another option, Frye suggested, is that labor organizations could waive their right to negotiate reforms if they wanted.

“The timeframe is a little rushed,” she said. “But you know what, it’s either now or we’re going to keep postponing this on into the future and I think we’re going to end up in the same place we are now — which is nowhere.”

At the least, the whirlwind of activity over the last five weeks now has given Frye substantial strength. Sanders has remained out of the spotlight and Hueso’s proposal — still the only formal plan developed by anyone — died at Frye’s hands yesterday.

Already, Frye is using her newfound strength to lobby for issues she has advocated for some time. Specifically, she mentioned that part of her package likely would include the completion of long-delayed study examining whether the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan costs the city money. The plan allows city workers nearing retirement to keep working and collect a monthly pension payment.

— LIAM DILLON

Dagny Salas

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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