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Early last week, City Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone released estimated savings for the reform measures contained in Prop D. For a few days, it made a splash. Activists on both sides offered strongly worded, if quickly forgotten, reactions. And now? I don’t think we’ll be hearing much about those estimates again.
For one thing, Goldstone produced an overly-wide range to account for unknowns in Prop D’s implementation. The savings would be somewhere between $626,000 to $85.5 million per year. Goldstone added that he thought the likely outcome would be near the high end. So why include a bottom as low as $626,000, a figure he described as “just barely meet[ing] these criteria”? To protect against lawsuits and charges of impropriety. That’s understandable in this climate, but also a disservice to the debate.
But that’s not why those numbers will quickly fade from the discussion. We won’t hear much about the only aspect of the reforms that ultimately matters because no one has much to gain by talking about it. A look at the anti-D website, for example, contains no mention of the estimates. (In fact, their Reasons to Oppose page contains no numbers at all.)
Would the anti-D activists want to promote the lower number? This so-called “reform” is only going to save $626k/yr! Really? All those issues you’ve been harping on endlessly these past five years only amount to what? That’s not gonna work. And the maximum estimate doesn’t offer much more cover: up to $85.5M/yr might possibly sound like a worthy but difficult set of reforms. And that’s not gonna help their cause either. (Why achieving $80M/yr in savings might be a bad thing for the conservative reform crowd is an exercise left to the reader.)
We could see some discussion of the estimates out of the pro-D camp. But they’ve been kneecapped in a different way. The public has been educated to think that there’s Vegas money to be found in the closets of City Hall. What reform-before-revenue has got to work with isn’t nearly so glamorous: $85.5M/yr max. They can trumpet what a large and impressive figure that is — it’s based on a long-running conservative wish-list, after all — and it is impressive. But real City budget accounting is no match for the fantasy figures San Diegans are accustomed to hearing.
So, we’ll likely be left to a numberless battle, a volley of hand-wringing, threats, and appeals to St. Ronnie (either the anti-government rhetorician or the latter-day tax raiser, depending). And just when we might have finally started getting serious around here.