The Morning Report
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Not everywhere would an unelected suburban owner of an office interior firm become the arbiter of a city’s financial future.
Here in San Diego, businessman Vince Mudd has become said arbiter despite living outside the city and not being elected or appointed to any city financial position.
Last year, Mudd and the task force of fellow business leaders he heads were in Mayor Jerry Sanders’ doghouse, after a draft report recommended bankruptcy unless the city passed a series of draconian financial reforms.
Now, Sanders ships all financial reform pitches to Mudd’s group to decide if they solve permanently the city’s decade-long budget deficits.
No better example of Mudd’s influence came during the Proposition D sales tax/financial reform campaign. When Mudd said Prop. D didn’t go far enough to solve the city’s problems, the mayor and council hustled quickly to put his suggested changes into action, passing legislation in two weeks.
Mudd’s group is expected to release another report on the city’s finances in the wake of Prop. D’s defeat in the first week of February.
What does a financial plan need to have to be successful?
First of all it has to resolve the structural budget deficit. Secondly, it cannot be balanced completely in the form of a sales tax increase. We know those two things are a fact. But most importantly, it needs to acknowledge that the city of San Diego’s true size of the problem is not limited to the $1 billion general fund, it’s the $2.8 billion enterprise that makes San Diego San Diego.
We’re developing something that will be the first time I think people will have looked at it this way. That is, we’re looking at the city of San Diego and its charter and state law and we’re saying, what are the services that are mandated by your bible, which is your charter, and state law? What do they cost and how many employees are required to provide that service?
Can you give me an example of a service that’s not mandatory?
Landfill. Perfect example.
One day the city will be out of the landfill business. Someone who does a great job will run that landfill and it will be great for the city and it won’t harm anybody in the city of San Diego. But it will relieve the city of San Diego from its cost of doing business. It will turn the landfill operation into a franchise, and therefore that franchise will be able to collect money from someone and give it to the general fund to pay for police and fire.
There are other services. You won’t find the print shop or the nursery in the charter. We’re providing those services. Our parks need plants. But I’m just not necessarily sure if the city of San Diego workforce is the best workforce to be used for the nursery.
What do you think the end result of these financial plan discussions is going to be?
I’m actually pretty happy with the way this is all going. I think ultimately we’re going to end up having what I’m dubbing the “PubMayoFaulconMaio” plan, which is the public’s input, the mayor’s input, (Councilman) Kevin Faulconer’s input and Councilmember DeMaio’s input. That’s going to be a plan that gets to zero. We can stop freaking fighting as if any one person has the right singular idea and start focusing on taking all the ideas that make sense.
In my business I collect sales tax from my customers and I remitted probably $10 million in sales tax last year. I own multiple properties in San Diego and do business in the city of San Diego. I’m financing to a great extent, as are members of our task force, these elected officials’ salaries. They work for me. They work for you. My point to these guys is, do your doggone job and fix the problem. Constantly reminding me that water is wet is not fixing the problem.
It’s interesting when you said the Pub-Faulconer-Mayor-DeMaio …
Right. I don’t hear any (Council President) Tony Young. Or (Councilman) Todd Gloria. Or anyone from the labor side of the spectrum of ideas. Why not?
I think the public represents everybody. I think Tony Young’s job as the former budget chair and the council president is to make sure that a package gets voted on by that council. I don’t think he needs to own that package because the second he owns it, I don’t know what happens but it’s not a good thing.
Because what happens in San Diego is everyone that comes up with an idea gets beat to a pulp. Then the idea never goes anywhere. Why in the world do we want to do that to ourselves again? There are people who are out there who feel they have some expertise in solving this problem. The mayor says he has that. Kevin Faulconer believes that he has that. I know that Councilmember DeMaio believes that he has that. I know the public believes that they should have a big role in it.
It just seems like you’re missing a whole side of the equation.
It seems like it except for one huge problem. That is that a significant amount of the solution is not going to feel voluntary for a large group of people. In other words, unfortunately since revenue has been dismissed, one of your large options has been dismissed. The plan that says I’ve got an idea we’re going to balance revenue with cuts is probably not going to make it, because that’s kinda what Prop. D was. The next plan is going to be we’re going to restructure the entire city which means there’s going to be less labor employees working for you. Although they’re going to be part of this conversation, I doubt they’re going to put their name on a plan.
So basically they lost, tough?
I thought what they were given was a straight up opportunity to go to the public and make their pitch.
The voters said no. They didn’t just say no, they hired a chorus to sing it with them. I think that the next plan that comes up has to be another group of people who says, can I have a chance to present my plan? I think it’s kind of fair.
You’ve told me that you’re not interested in running for mayor of San Diego, but I’m wondering if you have any political ambitions at all.
No, not at all. The reason why is I really enjoy my business. I need this region, this city, this county to do well. Otherwise, there aren’t going to be any clients for me to do business with. I’m not interested in being a politician. I’m interested in helping those elected officials and appointed officials who have everything to do with killing this city and hurting commerce in this city. Along with my friends, we’re investing time to help these guys make sure that this is a great city to do business in so they’ll do business in it.
Interview conducted and edited by Liam Dillon, who you can contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663 and follow on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.