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I am a believer that most people — our neighbors, our friends, our business associates — try to live life with integrity. I believe there are more good qualities in people than bad. But once someone proves to be disingenuous, how do you get comfortable with anything they ever tell you again? Even if they only misrepresent half of the facts, how would one know which half you can count on?
Welcome to San Diego politics, where the lack of putting forth the truth is not defined by party lines, it is defined by individuals. For example, when we are spoon-fed advertising with our Republican Mayor and Democratic Councilwoman pleading for a tax increase to “save our police and fire protection,” do they really believe that the people of San Diego are disengaged enough to not realize that we are being fed a steady diet of “fear tactics”? Are they really saying that if we do not provide a tax increase, police and fire jobs must drastically be cut? I have a novel idea: Let’s not cut any police and fire jobs. Let’s prioritize as government should and only cut non-safety positions out of the more than 10,000-plus city-employee system. Isn’t it interesting that they don’t threaten to cut white- or blue-collar jobs? That’s not scary enough, I suppose.
As children, our parents teach us not to lie. In grade school we are taught the Golden Rule; in high school we are taught integrity. In college we are taught ethics classes, and in the military we are taught honor, commitment and country come first. In many professional positions, there are rules that must be followed in order to practice in a given field or endeavor, or to be licensed. Why isn’t any of this required of our elected officials? There are no standards and there is little accountability expected. We can be misled by politicians, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars with impunity to them. It’s a game. No honesty or integrity required.
Where is the honor in the public being told that hundreds of jobs had been cut, when very few if any pink slips were issued? Turns out, the jobs that were cut were actually vacant positions in a “proposed” budget, not the actual budget.
In politics, there’s widespread talk about the “gotcha game.” Elected officials blame the media, special interest groups and each other for playing “gotcha.” Only now, they are the ones playing the “gotcha game” with the people who elected them to serve honorably.
Four years ago, the electorate voted for Proposition C to implement managed competition, competitive bidding between public employees and private businesses, for the delivery of public services. The public was told the measure would increase efficiency and provide significant resources for other critical services including police and fire protection.
So what happened with the trust the public placed in our elected officials to implement managed competition? Nothing. Not one contract was put out to bid which would produce measurable results for the budget. “Gotcha.”
How should small business owners, which make up the lion’s share of San Diego’s economy, large regional employers, and decent hardworking everyday people react when our elected officials make promises about one of the most basic fundamentals of life — water delivery — and then don’t even stand by what they said they would do? San Diegans were promised that if water rates were increased (now about 65 percent higher than just three years ago), proper audits would be conducted so all could see that the increases were justified. The result: no audits. Not necessary, they said — after they raised the rates. “Gotcha.”
The state of our city sadly reminds me of the ever present Charlie Brown and Lucy scene where Charlie Brown has the football all teed up, ready to kick off, based on Lucy’s promise not to move the ball (again). I think we all know the rest of the story. “Gotcha.”
On Nov. 2, the people of San Diego will be asked yet again to vote for or against politicians and measures based on promises made. Perhaps the single most important measure is Proposition D, a $500 million sales tax increase, which is a thinly-veiled promise to try to cut spending and balance the budget. Perhaps there will be a time when the people of San Diego decide that a self-imposed tax is the right thing to do. However, today is not that time.
That time should be when we can actually trust our elected officials to give us straight-talk, and when they complete the most fundamental task of their jobs: balancing the budget through cutting costs, limiting or eliminating grandiose projects that put the cart before the horse, and quit placing the blame everywhere other than with themselves.
On Election Day, it’s not about “getting out the vote,” it’s about “getting out the truth.” This proposition is not about protecting fire and police services; there are other areas to cut from or better yet to reform, eliminating or mitigating the need for cuts. Let’s send a message to our elected officials to cut some of their legacy projects that are better delayed until they fix what is broken now. No more taxes until you do the job you were elected to do.
Until that time, I strongly urge my fellow San Diegans to vote “NO” on Proposition D.
Dan Shea is the owner of Donovan’s Steakhouse and co-founder of the Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance.