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San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders called the businessman’s solution to the city’s ongoing budget deficits “our contract with the public.” The City Council accepted the man’s conclusions without question. Business leaders sang his praises. All this happened Monday afternoon to a man who isn’t elected, and who doesn’t even live in San Diego.

Yes, you could say Vince Mudd, a Poway resident, the owner of an office interior firm in Kearny Mesa and incoming chairman of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, had a good day in setting policy for the city of San Diego.

It’s a role, Mudd said, business leaders should embrace in every community.

“This particular enterprise is a $2.8 billion enterprise,” Mudd said. “It happens to be run by people who have never run a business. I think if they are looking for some help, business people should be willing to help.”

Less than a month before Election Day, Sanders and the City Council essentially outsourced a financial plan to Mudd and a task force of business leaders. The task force produced a report with strict guidelines for how the city should solve its long-standing financial problems with new money and spending cuts from Proposition D.

In the process, city politicians accepted that Prop. D by itself wasn’t enough to end a 10-year pattern of budget deficits. But they hoped Prop. D’s newfound credibility in the eyes of prominent members of the business community and, perhaps city voters, outweighed that concession.

The speed at which Mudd and his task force went from forgotten bystanders to policymakers was remarkable. In just two weeks, the task force went from a chat about its proposal with the mayor to the council passing its legislation.

The council endorsed three principles developed by Mudd’s task force to tighten the city’s savings targets should Prop. D pass and $500 million in new sales tax revenue flow into the city’s coffers over the next five years.

The City Council agreed to cut an average of $73 million a year from its $1 billion-plus day-to-day operating budget, spend no more than $20 million in new tax money a year on restoring services that have already been cut and use any surpluses to further pay down debt.

“They physically did everything that we asked for in our report,” Mudd said.

If the city didn’t embrace the task force’s ideas, he added, Prop. D wouldn’t solve the city’s budget problems even with new tax money.

The hailing of Mudd and his task force as the city’s budget saviors came almost a year after Sanders’ office and the city’s political establishment dismissed them as naive troublemakers. Last fall, a report from nearly the same 11-member task force called for draconian cuts to the city’s budget and bankruptcy if all else failed.

Yet, it’s not as if the council’s decision Monday changed the language voters will see on their ballots or laid out a specific plan for how the city would meet its new targets. Opponents noted that the council could ignore the principles if it wanted. Councilman Carl DeMaio compared the significance of the council’s action to its passing of a resolution supporting bike-to-work week.

Further, the task force report describes a path that relies on massive privatization to achieve the cost savings it believes the city needs. The City Council has been hesitant to accept privatization in the past and so have city unions. Heads of the city’s fire and blue-collar unions sat in council chambers for the discussion, but didn’t speak about the measure.

Later this week, it will begin to become clear if the council’s action did anything to sway wavering business leaders on Prop. D. The chamber and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. haven’t weighed in on Prop. D at Sanders’ request. The mayor wanted to push Mudd’s plan through the council first. The chamber is expected to decide its position on Prop. D this week, with the Economic Development Corp.’s decision coming soon after. Representatives from both organizations attended the meeting.

“I’ve been telling everybody it’s an incredible job that Vince and the task force have done to actually put in black and white something that we’ve been missing in the city of San Diego since before it was labeled Enron-by-the-Sea, which is actually quantifying what we need to do to get out of the mess,” said Ruben Barrales, the chamber’s president.

But Barrales said he wasn’t sure how the council’s action would affect any chamber endorsement, or perhaps just as importantly, the money individual members might spend to support or oppose Prop. D.

Up on the dais, where the real elected officials sat, council members continued their politicking on both sides of the measure. Prop. D opponents, DeMaio and Councilman Kevin Faulconer, derided Mudd’s proposal as a meaningless addition to a flawed effort to fix the city’s budget problems. They were the only two council members to vote against the Mudd plan.

On the other side, Council President Ben Hueso goaded Faulconer and DeMaio when he called for the vote.

“Please vote if you think you can eliminate the city’s structural deficit in five years,” Hueso said.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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