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On Tuesday, San Diego’s City Council did a simple, but atypical thing. Council members told the mayor how they would like the city to spend its money.
It started in the morning when Councilman David Alvarez, who was elected in November, set out his own plan to cut $47 million from the city’s deficit-ridden budget. The majority of Alvarez’s ideas weren’t new: eliminating unfilled positions, cutting what’s budgeted for contracts, selling underused assets. But that a council member — aside from outspoken Councilman Carl DeMaio — actually proposed cuts himself was new.
“We plan on using the full extent of our legislative authority to make sure that the mayor understands what our priorities are,” Alvarez said.
Council President Tony Young endorsed Alvarez’s initiative at a press conference, and said that later in the day council members would forward a list of proposed cuts to Mayor Jerry Sanders. Sanders must present a budget to the council by April 15.
Young added that he’s been negotiating with Sanders and Councilman Kevin Faulconer on the budget and that Tuesday’s resolution added more clarity about the council’s wishes.
“Working with my colleagues has been about me encouraging them to come up with their budget ideas,” Young said. “Working with the mayor is to try to explain to him the things that are important to us.”
The council’s newfound aggressiveness comes as the city stares down the latest in a decade-long series of budget gaps. The city’s official deficit is $56.7 million. But a task force of city business leaders pegged the number at $130 million, including retiree health care costs and money needed to fix the city’s broken streets and storm drains.
Efforts during Sanders’ five-year tenure to end the deficit have so far failed, especially in the face of a severe economic downtown. Most recently, a Sanders-led push to couple a sales tax increase with further financial reforms failed at the polls in November. The mayor has vowed to close the budget gap by the time he leaves office at the end of next year.
Previous councils haven’t offered many budget cutting ideas of their own.
But Tuesday afternoon, the council showed further independence from Sanders, shifting bond debt owed for an existing expansion to the city’s Convention Center from the day-to-day operating budget to the downtown redevelopment agency. This move relieves the day-to-day budget at the expense of redevelopment efforts.
Sanders had opposed the move, and as we’ve reported, the action came despite significant legal questions.
The council’s decision pays $2 million of the now-$9.2 million annual Convention Center bond payment with redevelopment dollars next year, with redevelopment’s share increasing by $500,000 each year until it pays $9 million annually.