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Statement: “I’m the one who triggers the half-cent sales tax and I won’t trigger it until we cut $73 million permanently out of our budget,” Mayor Jerry Sanders about Proposition D on the Fox 5 Morning Show Oct. 7.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: A key feature of the city of San Diego’s Proposition D ballot measure is that the half-cent sales tax increase kicks in only if city officials meet 10 financial reform conditions.

The question here is: Who determines if the city has met the conditions?

The answer is clear and unequivocal: City Auditor Eduardo Luna.

City Council gave Luna the authority when it put the measure on the November ballot. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith confirmed Luna’s power in a September memo. Yes on D supporters in a campaign mailer promoted Luna as the one to “independently verify” the reforms occur before the sales tax is increased.

Yet since the Prop. D campaign began, Mayor Jerry Sanders has argued time and again he has the authority to determine if reform conditions have been met. Sanders contends that this power ensures budget cuts anticipated by Prop. D will be meaningful. Colloquially, the argument has been known as the “hammer” since Sanders used the word to describe his claimed power in August.

Sanders has justified his statements by saying that he’s the one in control of making reform happen. He says he will personally ensure that pledges such as the one City Council made to cut an average $73 million annually from the budget will occur before the tax increase. That’s the version of the “hammer” argument he used recently on the Fox 5 Morning Show, and that’s the statement we’re checking here.

There’s something wrong with the statement from the start. The mayor isn’t the official triggerman. That’s Luna. Sanders does, however, play a central role in the measure and conceivably could stop the sales tax increase from going into effect if he so desires.

The Union-Tribune has examined Sanders’ contention. Goldsmith also has analyzed the issue.

The conclusion was that the mayor only has unilateral power over three reform conditions in Prop. D. The first he’s completed: soliciting interest from private companies to take over the city’s Miramar landfill. The second: issuing a study that determines if a controversial pension benefit, the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, costs the city money. The third: soliciting proposals from private companies to operate the city’s information technology services.

Theoretically, he could hold up the tax increase if he holds back the study or the IT solicitation.

Yes on D spokeswoman Rachel Laing argues the mayor’s power is actually greater than that. As the city’s lead labor negotiator, for example, he has an important role in reforms that require pacts with unions. But she said she would tell the mayor to stop using the word “trigger” because of the implications about the auditor’s role.

“Trigger is the wrong term,” Laing said. “He’s asserting that he’s really in control of the process.”

But promoting himself as the lead player distorts reality. Using Sanders’ logic, everyone — the mayor, the City Council and even Goldsmith — has a “hammer.” All of them could hold up the tax increase through bureaucratic or legal means if they wanted.

City Council, for example, has the final say on breaking deadlocks in labor negotiations. In an interview, Goldsmith said he could halt Prop. D reforms because the City Charter requires him to sign city legislation before it takes effect.

“Conceivably, I could have that ‘hammer’ myself,” Goldsmith said. “But I would never use that. That’s an abuse of my power.”

The only one with a special designation to “trigger” the tax is Luna.

Our definition for “misleading” is a statement that takes an element of truth and badly distorts it or exaggerates it giving a deceptive impression. Sanders’ statement fits that definition by calling himself Prop. D’s triggerman.

But there is an element of truth to what Sanders is saying. The mayor can unilaterally hold up the tax increase by keeping the DROP study and IT solicitation from happening. A caveat: If he completes those two reforms before the others are done, any kind of hammer he wields disintegrates.

Here’s the mayor’s interview. His statement begins around the 1 minute, 15 second mark. You can also view it above in the left sidebar.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also email new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org. What claim should we explore next?

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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