When Mayor Kevin Faulconer released his budget two weeks ago, one stat got a lot of attention. Faulconer plans to spend nearly $300 million in infrastructure projects next year, a 66 percent increase over this year. The number was enough for U-T San Diego to call him “The Infrastructure Mayor.” Faulconer’s been embracing the role, posing for regular road repair photo ops during his brief time in office.
Hold some light up to Faulconer’s plan, though, and it loses some luster. Consider that under Faulconer’s proposal, according to a new report from the city’s independent budget analyst:
• The city remains almost $200 million below the funding it needs to keep streets, buildings and storm drains from getting worse. And that assumes a $120 million repair loan, now in legal limbo, and similar loans planned in the future actually go forward.
• The city’s $30 million short this year of a national spending standard to adequately maintain and repair its facilities.
The vast majority of this year’s increased infrastructure funding comes from water and sewer projects, many of which are tied to state and federal mandates, planned for years and financed through utility bills, not taxes. Preventing busted pipes and sewage spills are important, but it’s not as if Faulconer had to make tough, direct spending decisions to boost the funding.
In the parts of the budget where Faulconer did wield a bigger influence, it’s not all bad news.
He more than kept a campaign promise to dedicate half the city’s increases in tax revenues to repairs, which resulted in $22 million in new money for fixes. He also directed dollars from a federal program toward repairs in lower-income neighborhoods.
But the budget analyst pointed out the puniness of Faulconer’s infrastructure spending compared to the size of the problem. The city needs a lot more new money, the report said, potentially billions of dollars. A solution could be a plan like the megabond that some city leaders are kicking around, the report said.
The megabond would come with a tax increase, though. That’s something Faulconer says he won’t support.