This morning, someone forwarded me a story from a California political consultant with tips for passing a tax increase in a difficult economy.
Tip 1: “Take the time to plan carefully: A measure that is put on the ballot hastily will likely fail.” Hmmm.
Another tip: “Minimize opposition: It is rare that a tax measure will pass if there is serious, organized and well-funded opposition.” Hmmm, again.
I had already been thinking about asking the proponents of the city of San Diego’s financial reform and sales tax ballot measure, known as Proposition D, what they had been doing. Aside from a press conference outside a fire station the day after the measure was put on the ballot, nothing has happened in public. Meantime, opponents, led by City Councilman Carl DeMaio, are all over television and have started their website. (I’m not the only one ruminating on this dynamic.)
I called Tom Shepard, one of the Yes on D campaign consultants. He agreed that tax measures with organized opposition have uphill battles. (Though it’s unclear how well-funded opponents are at the moment.) He also agreed there’s a lot proponents have to do between now and November, like meeting reform targets and narrowing the chasm between the measure’s savings estimates. Organized labor already has made it clear it’s not just going to roll over on some of the city’s reform goals. But, Shepard said, there’s still time.
“We don’t even have a campaign committee formed yet,” Shepard said. “We don’t have any money yet. What are we supposed to do? I don’t think anyone is paying attention right now other than Carl DeMaio and his friends. We’re putting together a first-class campaign team and building a broad coalition.”
Working in the campaign’s favor, Shepard said, is that San Diegans are attuned to the city’s fiscal problems since they’ve been in the news constantly for at least six years. Also, the sausage-making that led to the measure appearing on the ballot occurred in public, which he said adds credibility to the process.
As far as the “first-class campaign team” goes, Shepard said the campaign has retained elections lawyer Jim Sutton, who has worked on Mayor Jerry Sanders’ campaigns, and the same group that did sales tax polling earlier this year. His co-consultant will be Barry Barnes from San Francisco. Locally, Barnes was the lead consultant for the successful campaign two years ago to keep developers from building a deck atop the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal. Barnes’ firm also has worked on many school tax measures.
Shepard said he expected to announce some high-profile supporters soon, which would be big news. The city’s labor unions are on board, but so far business leaders either are opposed to the proposition or remain wary.
One chance for that to change could come as soon as this afternoon. Pro and con ballot arguments are due by 5 p.m. and Barnes said supporters are, “pursuing at least one representative from the business community” to sign their statement.
— LIAM DILLON