The city of San Diego could save between $8.7 million and $855 million over the next 10 years if voters pass a financial reform ballot measure in November, the Mayor’s Office said late Monday.

The numbers give a modicum of clarity to the biggest question about the reform package: How much reform is guaranteed if voters agree to temporarily boost the city’s sales tax by a half-cent to 9.25 percent.

But the $846.3 million difference between the two extremes — more than the six largest city departments in its day-to-day budget combined — shows the ballot measure’s lack of specificity. As we’ve written, many of the reforms anticipate cost savings, but don’t require them. Also, state labor law forces negotiations before many cuts to employee benefits could occur.

City Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said he was more worried about providing defensible numbers than producing such a large range.

“I think trying to present a fair representation so the voters don’t feel like we’re misleading them was more critical,” Goldstone said.

The lower numbers, he added, “just barely meet these criteria.” But he expected savings to be closer to the high end.

One reason, Goldstone said, was because of planned reforms for retiree health care, a more than $1 billion liability that’s only 3 percent funded.

“It’s not going to take huge movements to realize some significant savings,” he said.

The Mayor’s Office released the numbers as part of a required fiscal impact statement due Monday afternoon. The fiscal impact statement will appear in voter pamphlets along with arguments for and against the measure.

The sales tax increase is projected to raise $102 million annually for five years. The tax could not be levied until the city would implement all the reforms.

I have asked Goldstone for a dollar breakdown for all 10 reforms and should receive that tomorrow.


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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