Friday, September 10, 2010
Judge David Oberholtzer tossed out the latest lawsuit challenging Proposition D, the city's sales tax increase/financial reform ballot measure. We discuss the challenges Prop. D will face in November, and the impact it could have in San Diego if passed by voters.
ALISON ST JOHN (Host): Anyway, let’s move on to the next topic, which is, guess what, another increase. The city’s bargain ballot initiative, Prop D, has not been knocked off the ballot in spite of a couple of lawsuits claiming that it’s vague, false and misleading. So Prop D is not your normal sales tax increase, is it, Bob? It’s kind of making a deal with voters. Explain it.
BOB KITTLE (Director, News Planning and Content, KUSI): Well, Proposition D is a very complex measure when you think about it because basically the – Mayor Sanders and the city council have asked for – asked the voters to approve this half-cent sales tax but it would not take affect unless 10 changes that were spelled out in the ballot measure had been accomplished. So it is a complicated formula with a trigger that requires the independent city auditor to verify that the changes have been made and for the mayor to sign off on it before the tax could actually be collected. So it is a very complex animal.
ST JOHN: So now what did the judge say? It seems like we had a bit of a double message coming out of the courts this week?
KITTLE: Well, Judge David Oberholtzer rejected the first suit from Richard Rider that said this violates state law, etcetera. He rejected that. This week, he rejected a second lawsuit filed by April Boling challenging the fiscal analysis that was produced by Mayor Sanders’ office because she claimed that the analysis was misleading and false. And, ironically, while the judge rejected that argument and said I’m not going to mess with it, it goes to the ballot as written, he said the preponderance of the evidence shows that it is, indeed, misleading and a normally intelligent voter could be misled by this but state law requires a higher level, which is clear and convincing evidence that the ballot statement is false and it does not rise to that level, so you’re just a little bit pregnant here. It doesn’t go to the full level. So, he said, I’m going to take hands-off, get out of my courtroom, it goes to the ballot.
ST JOHN: Okay, so this leaves us, as voters, left with something that could be quite hard to decipher. I mean, Andrew, what’s your sense? Do you think that it’s clear enough for voters to make a choice in November?
ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, voiceofsandiego.org): I think in the long run, yes. I think to me, the bigger – the biggest question in my mind is whether or not our city leaders believe this is a fix or they believe this is the fix. And you’re already getting mixed messages. People like Donna Frye and Tony Young, who were very, very instrumental in making sure that this thing got put together, are saying, no, this is a fix. This is not fix the entire city’s system, this gets us on the road and it takes care of some of our problems. But the mayor very much is making the case that this the fix, that this is sort of the plan that he has sort of had been sort of – About 18 months ago, he said I am going to put together a plan that solves the city’s finances and now they’re basically saying this is the plan even though somebody else came up with it. So I think the city has very, very severe financial problems and that if people do think this is going to be the thing that fixes it all, then that’s going to be a problem.
ST JOHN: So, JW, how important do you think the variations on cost savings, because it all comes down, I suppose, to money, and how much money can they save through the reforms and in return for the taxpayers kicking in with the sales tax. We’ve had such different interpretations of how much money would be saved.
JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, 10News): And – but – But how can they tell? This was very creative. I thought the city – the city leaders that put this together were very creative. I mean, this hasn’t been done before anywhere. And they kind of get dinged by the judge because, hey, you’re way too creative, you know? We prefer it the old way. You know, it should be the old way. And I – And there’s no way to tell until the negotiations are finished, so what we’re saying here is if it isn’t what they said, it’s not going to go – be implemented. What do we have to lose? What do we have to lose? I think, like Boling, a lot of this is political posturing by Boling and DeMaio. DeMaio wants to be mayor and Boling wants Marti Emerald’s seat, and that’s just to raise their profile. But I think the voters should decide and Prop D, the voters should understand what Prop D’s about and consider it. I’m not saying which way I would vote, but I think just because we thought out of the box for once in San Diego, why do we have to be punished for it?
ST JOHN: Bob.
KITTLE: Well, I’m shocked that JW would claim that there’s politics involved. Yes, I am shocked. But let me say that the central issue here from my perspective is the 10 changes that they have proposed are not real, they’re not substantive. They would not provide substantive savings. For example, the mayor’s analysis claims that the – one of the 10 measures which requires that a guide be prepared, be agreed to for outsourcing, would save $27 million. Well, in fact, the guide won’t save any money at all. If, in fact, a future city council goes ahead and outsources trash collection or landscape maintenance or other services, yes, you could have tens of millions of dollars in savings. But the reform does not require that. For ex – another reform is that the City shall seek proposals to outsource the operation of the Miramar Landfill. Well, seeking proposals does not save you any money. You have to take the next step, and this ballot measure doesn’t require that the next step be taken to outsource. So there are a number of things like that. There are some modest savings that would be achieved from this but nothing close to the $103 million in taxes that this would raise, and not nearly enough to keep up with the rapidly escalating costs of the pension plan which, over the next five years, will consume about $100 million more a year of the taxpayers money and over the – until by 2025, it would double. It’d be about $250 million more than the City is contributing this year to the pension plan.
ST JOHN: So, Andrew, the mayor has come on board with this, it was started by Donna Frye, and he’s come on board. What does – what do they have to say to convince the voters that these reforms that appear to be somewhat hard to estimate…
ST JOHN: …are really going to be worth it.
DONAHUE: Well, I think, I mean, that’s a major problem. You look – I disagree a little bit with Bob here. I think there are some savings that could be very important. Retiree healthcare is one. That could save anywhere between one dollar and $42 million a year. That’s the problem. I mean…
ST JOHN: Yeah.
DONAHUE: …if you’re – I think it’s a little absurd to go to voters and say, hey, we’re going to save you some money. We’re not sure exactly how much but vote for this and it’ll be somewhere between a dollar and $42 million. So, to me, that’s a huge problem for a voter to get over because you’re requiring a voter to buy in a lot of faith into a city government that has not given people many reasons to have faith over the last decade. So that, to me, is the biggest problem it faces.
ST JOHN: So we still have a few weeks to analyze this and see if we can get a little more clarity before November rolls around but I’d like to thank you gentlemen very much for helping us grasp what the issues are here. Joining us we’ve had JW August, managing editor for 10News. Thanks very much, JW, for your participation.
AUGUST: Glad to be here.
ST JOHN: Bob Kittle, director of News Planning and Content for KUSI. Always great to have you here, Bob.
KITTLE: Thank you, Alison.
ST JOHN: And Andrew Donohue, editor of voiceofsandiego.org. Thanks so much, Andrew.
DONAHUE: Thank you, Alison.
ST JOHN: And I’m Alison St John in for Gloria Penner. We’d like to thank you for listening to the Editors Roundtable here on KPBS.