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Three words have defined the debate over the city of San Diego’s Proposition D, the most consequential ballot measure in recent history. With less than 24 hours before Election Day, here’s a glance at how they have framed the discussion. Consider this your final Prop. D voter guide.

Trust

Prop. D supporters argue the measure’s combination of a sales-tax increase and financial reforms will solve the city’s ongoing budget problems. But should Prop. D pass, the 10 financial reforms that the city must achieve before increasing the sales tax could save between $626,000 and $85.5 million annually. Bridging that divide has become a central theme in the campaign.

Mayor Jerry Sanders has made an unconvincing case that the tax increase won’t happen unless reforms are as strong as he wants. But, with Sanders’ backing and business leaders’ urging, City Council agreed to cut an average of $73 million from the budget over the next 10 years in response to claims the measure was too weak.

Opponents note these are promises, not guarantees.

The four reforms the city already has completed have yielded about $500,000 in savings to date. The two biggest cost saving ideas, privatizing city services and reducing retiree health care, won’t happen until later.

Therefore, voters have to trust the city will make meaningful cuts to solve the budget problems.

Alternative

What’s the alternative if Prop. D fails? In the past two weeks, Sanders and city department directors have travelled around town detailing potential budget cuts. They would include layoffs of police officers and firefighters, they say.

Not all of these cuts will happen, a top city official has said. Midyear budget reductions, other new revenues or savings from outsourcing will stave off some of the most draconian decisions.

But opponents to Prop. D have had trouble outlining their alternatives.

Councilman Carl DeMaio isn’t releasing his plan to fix the city’s budget woes until after Election Day and some of the proposals he’s already detailed are dubious. Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s alternative plan suffers from a similar vagueness.

It is clear that if Prop. D fails, the city will have a difficult time not further reducing services and likely will continue not paying some of its debts.

Distraction

Prop. D supporters have inserted major issues into the debate at the risk of distracting voters from their central message.

The mayor and City Council embraced a report from local business leaders that said the ballot measure had weak reform language. The council passed a resolution calling for $73 million in annual budget cuts in response. This move appears to have worked out.

Significant business groups that had been iffy on Prop. D lined up behind the measure after the resolution passed.

Last month, Sanders, with the help of state legislators and redevelopment officials, pushed a secret, last-minute deal to cordon off $6 billion in property tax revenue downtown and help build a new Chargers stadium. Sanders had promised that any decision on the future of downtown redevelopment would happen through a public process. The breaking of that promise has led some to reject Prop. D. How can voters trust the mayor, they ask, if he breaks his word on such a significant issue?

The Skinny

If Prop. D passes, the San Diego’s sales tax will increase from by a half-cent once the city completes 10 financial reforms. The increase will be in place for five years. Starting July 1, the city’s sales tax would be 8.25 percent because a temporary state sales tax hike is expiring. The city estimates the new sales tax will generate about $100 million a year in new revenues to combat a $70 million-plus deficit.

Here’s one final pre-election note. We reported that District 8 City Council candidate Felipe Hueso would recuse himself from voting on issues related to the expansion of the Southeastern Economic Development Corp.’s redevelopment area because he owns property in the neighborhood. In a later interview, Hueso told me he reconsidered and if elected he would ask the City Attorney’s Office if a recusal was necessary.

Happy Election Day friends.

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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