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It’s not as if a discussion about San Diego’s decaying streets, buildings and storm drains hasn’t been around for a while. For years, we’ve known they’ve been getting worse and the public and politicians alike wanted someone to do something about it.
Near the end of the year, City Councilman Mark Kersey finally proposed doing … something.
Kersey, who has been in charge of the Council’s infrastructure committee since it started two years ago, wants the city to formally set aside a large percentage of its sales tax revenues, pension savings and other revenue growth in the coming years to pay for road and other repairs. And to make sure that happens, Kersey wants city voters sign off in June.
This is a typical San Diego answer to a problem. Kersey’s solution isn’t new taxes or budget cuts. Instead, it’s a call to spend the money we already have in a different way. The city’s history isn’t kind to plans like these. Mayor Susan Golding tried to do the same thing with police funding in the 1990s. Then came Mayor Dick Murphy in the 2000s and a set aside for libraries. Neither worked.
Kersey says his plan is different because a voter mandate will force politicians to keep their word on road funding. But even then, estimates from the city’s independent budget analyst have shown Kersey’s answer won’t provide nearly enough money to make a dent in the city’s infrastructure problem, especially in the short term.
Despite all these issues, Kersey’s announcement has already taken over the conversation. It killed a long-discussed megabond, a tax hike that was pegged for the November 2016 ballot when the expected high voter turnout might have given it a chance to pass. And since Kersey’s measure got through a Council committee hearing earlier this month, the idea looks like it’s going to make it onto the June ballot.
Next year could see other infrastructure plans go before voters across the county, notably a potential sales tax hike from SANDAG. But for the city, Kersey’s plan is, for better or worse, framing the debate about the future of San Diego’s roads.
This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.