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We received a few good responses on my post about the challenges San Diego Mayor-elect Bob Filner faces with his $20 million-plus public-safety spending plan.
That money, which comes from a legal settlement with San Diego Gas & Electric, is already targeted for other projects and a city reserve account.
Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre said Filner can change spending policies. Commenter Chris Brewster said Councilman Todd Gloria, who told me he wants to keep money in reserves, also indicated he’d be willing to amend other plans to meet Filner’s goal. Deputy City Attorney Brant Will said that Filner could borrow more money to finance his proposal.
I can sum this up the way I led my story: You can only spend a dollar once.
Sure, the city can use the money from the SDG&E settlement to fund the public-safety items the way Filner wants.
But there are a few issues with doing that. The first is that the city is already indirectly spending that money as loan payments for the proposed $25 million plan for some libraries, a fire station and other infrastructure. Beyond that, if the settlement money is spent directly then the legal reserve account would need to be replenished some other way to meet the reserve policy.
It’s true that policies can change. But both Gloria, a Democrat and possibly the next council president, and the Independent Budget Analyst have said that the reserve policy is important. So it’s far from a slam dunk that Filner would get his way.
Gloria also said he’d be willing to negotiate on the list of projects under the $25 million loan to include more public-safety items. That can work, too. But that means there will be less money to spend on, say, a library in San Ysidro.
And if Filner borrows more money, he’ll have to find a way to pay it back.
The bottom line is that Filner wants to tap a finite pool of cash that’s earmarked to be spent in a certain way. It could be spent a different way. But that means taking the money away from its current purpose, something key political actors seem wary about doing — at least for now.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5663.
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