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San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio opposes Proposition D. He has a plan of his own to balance the city’s budget without a tax increase.

What’s DeMaio’s plan? You won’t see it until after Election Day.

“We are not releasing until the second week of November,” DeMaio wrote in an email to local business leader Vince Mudd last month.

Unlike DeMaio, fellow Republican City Councilman and Prop. D opponent Kevin Faulconer argues he has a financial plan. It’s a PowerPoint presentation with a bullet-pointed list of cost-cutting proposals. But Faulconer’s plan lacks details. Not only does it provide sparse savings estimates, but crucial elements have substantial unacknowledged legal complications.

DeMaio and Faulconer are Prop. D’s lead antagonists. They argue you can’t trust that city politicians need $100 million more annually of your tax money. You can’t trust city politicians will make strong reforms because the ballot measure doesn’t guarantee them. You can’t trust city politicians will protect fire and police services if Prop. D passes, or cut those services if it fails.

But without a comprehensive financial package to counter Prop. D, DeMaio and Faulconer’s alternatives rely on the same principle: Trust us, two city politicians, to solve the city’s problems after Election Day.

The lack of a detailed plan from either councilman has contributed to fissures in the business community over Prop. D. Mudd, who headed a task force that analyzed the measure, has pushed DeMaio and Faulconer to release a formal plan for weeks. Julie Meier Wright, president of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., said Prop. D opponents aren’t providing any competing visions for the city’s financial future.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce endorsed Prop. D on Thursday in part because it’s the only existing plan that addresses the city’s ongoing budget deficits, chamber board chairman Tom Wornham said. DeMaio didn’t have a plan, Wornham added, and Faulconer’s wasn’t comprehensive.

“I am convinced that (Prop. D) is the only plausible solution I’ve seen that fixes the deficit,” Wornham said.

But DeMaio and Faulconer also argue Prop. D, which authorizes the city to impose a half-cent sales tax increase if 10 financial reforms are met, makes the city’s financial problems worse. Instead of fixing the deficit, they say, the temporary tax papers over it while removing incentives for meaningful reform.

Their ideas, though not packaged into comprehensive plans, focus on privatization and reducing retirement costs and not tax increases.

Prop. D supporters think the councilmen’s lack of plans bolsters their case.

“When someone gives you an option that shows a way out and someone says they have a magic wand, you choose the option that shows you have a way out,” said City Councilwoman Donna Frye, a Prop. D supporter. “Because let me tell you something, there’s nothing better coming down the road.”

Both DeMaio and Faulconer have long histories with the city’s fiscal problems. Faulconer was first elected in 2006, and leads its audit committee. DeMaio was elected in 2008, and spent four years before that critiquing the city’s finances during the height of the pension scandal.

DeMaio’s plan isn’t ready yet. In May, DeMaio hired an actuary, former city retirement board member Bill Sheffler, to develop savings estimates for pension and other retirement reforms the councilman long has advocated. DeMaio’s proposal might also include using redevelopment dollars to subsidize what’s allowed in the day-to-day budget. DeMaio’s staffers said the councilman won’t release numbers until he’s certain they are correct.

“This project is a four- or five-month project,” said Felipe Monroig, DeMaio’s chief of staff. “We’re not going to rush it for political expediency.”

DeMaio’s ideas, such as creating a 401(k)-style plan for existing city employees, cutting retiree health care and eliminating non-guaranteed pension benefits, are well-known because he’s discussed them since he took office, Monroig said. DeMaio’s spokesman said the councilman was unavailable for an interview.

The majority of Faulconer’s proposals replicate the reforms in Prop. D, though he argues his approach is more aggressive. Prop. D’s own financial analysis shows the city could save $85.5 million a year through reform measures. The city should do them without a tax increase, Faulconer said. Faulconer’s proposals — cutting retiree health care costs, competitively bidding city services and giving new employees lower pension benefits — will solve ongoing deficits, he said.

“The council can close that gap by making these reforms for next year’s fiscal budget,” Faulconer said.

But Faulconer’s plan requires the city to achieve substantial savings by June, a tall order given the time needed to contract out services. Mudd’s analysis showed that even with significant reform like the kind Faulconer envisions, the city still will face budget deficits the next six years without a tax increase.

Faulconer said he disagreed with the Mudd analysis, but hadn’t fully vetted it. The councilman’s plan lacks the detail to rebut Mudd’s. Faulconer has no spreadsheets, budget forecasts, specific savings estimates or list of assumptions. It’s a PowerPoint.

Further, two reform ideas in Faulconer’s plan, increasing the retirement age and eliminating a supplemental pension benefit, face substantial hurdles not mentioned.

No new non-public safety employee should be allowed to retire before he turns 62 years old, Faulconer said. But Faulconer would need his own ballot measure if he wants to make that change.

Also, Faulconer wants to end a supplemental retirement plan for lifeguards. The plan already has been eliminated for new lifeguards.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith believes the benefit is legally guaranteed to current ones. Even if it isn’t guaranteed, said city labor negotiator Scott Chadwick, Faulconer couldn’t force a change on his own. Existing lifeguards would have to vote to eliminate the plan for themselves, Chadwick 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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