Much of the discussion on the city of San Diego’s Proposition D so far has focused on timing. How much reform will the city undertake prior to November’s election? How much money will it save? Will Mayor Jerry Sanders be able to hammer home reforms by forcing a timeline on City Council and organized labor?
This debate should end.
Voters will not see any substantial savings from the 10 fiscal reforms mandated by the sales-tax proposition before the election. Four out of every five dollars the city is expected to save from Prop. D comes from reducing its retiree health care liability and competing out city services. Neither will happen before the election.
Labor negotiations on retiree health care aren’t expected to be finished until April. The city is expected to approve a guide to outsourcing services next week, one of the reforms required by Prop. D, but that’s it. City Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone has said that six-to-eight city services are ready for outside competition. But the actual competitions require numerous steps, such as soliciting private bids and review by an independent board, before any savings could occur. That process should take months.
These facts about timing shouldn’t denigrate the potential for Prop. D to address the city’s financial problems.
Instead of the timing for reforms, the debate should turn to how consequential the reform measures will be. The city has estimated it could save between $626,000 and $85.5 million annually through reforms mandated by Prop. D. That’s a huge gulf. Those who believe the savings should be toward the higher end should focus on forcing Mayor Jerry Sanders, the City Council and the city’s labor unions to get there.
And, coincidentally, that’s where timing does come into play.
Once the city completes the 10 reforms required by Prop. D, state law requires at least 110 days to pass before the half-cent sales tax increase will go into effect. The city’s budget deficit starting July 1 is now estimated at $72 million. If city officials want to use new sales tax money to stop some of the massive public safety cuts they’re threatening, they’ll need to finish all the reforms sooner rather than later. Like this spring. By that point, the public should have a much better idea how much city officials were willing to cut.
For now, though, as the mayor, our own Scott Lewis and the Union-Tribune editorial page have noted recently, Prop. D comes down to a matter of trust. Do you trust proponents who say reforms will be meaningful, or opponents who say they won’t?