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San Diego Mayor Announces Tax Proposal In State Of The City Address

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his State of the City address, Jan. ...

Credit: Andrew Bowen

Above: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his State of the City address, Jan. 12, 2017.

San Diego Mayor Announces Tax Proposal In State Of The City Address

GUEST:

Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

Transcript

Mayor Kevin Faulconer Thursday night proposed increasing San Diego's hotel room tax to expand the convention center, pay for more road repair and fund programs to get the growing number of homeless off the city's streets.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer Thursday night proposed increasing San Diego's hotel room tax to expand the convention center, pay for more road repair and fund programs to get the growing number of homeless off the city's streets.

In his State of the City address at the Balboa Theatre, Faulconer made scant mention of the Chargers' announcement that the team will move to Los Angeles.

"At the end of the day, (team owner) Dean Spanos was truly never willing to work with us on a stadium solution, and demanded a lot more money than we could ever agree to," Faulconer said. "San Diego is a great city, and we will move forward."

Faulconer, who began his second term last month after being comfortably re-elected in June, then moved ahead to tout accomplishments like repairing 640 miles of roadways and fixing a dysfunctional emergency dispatch system. He also touted some 750 homeless veterans receiving housing vouchers under his "Housing Our Heroes" program. As of last month, however, only 450 had actually secured housing under the program — far fewer than his goal of housing 1,000 homeless veterans by March.

The tax plan was revealed near the end of the 41-minute speech. Faulconer said he will present the City Council with a proposed ballot measure, to go before voters, that would raise the hotel room tax rate by an unspecified amount. The resulting revenue would pay for an expansion of the convention center that has been on the drawing board for around five years.

"This is the only legitimate plan that guarantees we can move forward with this critical project," Faulconer said. He added that revenue from the tax and economic boost from the bigger facility would also be shoveled into roads and solving the homeless issue.

The hotel room tax was last year's political football. Initiatives by the Chargers to fund a downtown stadium project and an attorney to pay for several programs both envisioned raising the rate from its current 10.5 percent. Voters rejected both by wide margins.

Going into more detail on homelessness, Faulconer added that a system that allows area social service agencies to work together, for instance — providing real-time information on available beds — is coming online this year.

"We must channel the fundamental decency into passionate and collective action," Faulconer said. "We must lift up the neediest among us and carry their burdens as our own. We must make reducing homelessness our region's number one social service priority."

Faulconer's speech last year made a similar promise to place a measure on the ballot to fund a convention center expansion. City Councilman David Alvarez said that was just one of several things he was still waiting for the mayor to act on.

"We need to just move forward with action now," Alvarez said. "I think he’s assuming we would approve this in 2018. We cannot wait until 2018 to take action on these things. The needs are today, and I think this year the council is really going to have to act."

Under California law, any tax increase that dedicates money to a specific use needs a two-thirds majority from voters to become law.

The mayor's plan comes as the city faces a $47 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The gap between projected revenue and planned expenses is a product of jump in the city's contribution to the employee pension system.

Faulconer conceded that this would be a "lean budget year" and called for the City Council to solve the city's new budget woes responsibly. He also waded into the national strife that has created divisions along political, racial and class lines. “We can't let that happen here, we won't,'' Faulconer said. “We'll keep working until no one is divided by race, class or ZIP code.''

Faulconer said the nearby international border causes some people to see division, but he saw "a cross-border culture, a cross-border economy and a cross-border spirit of cooperation that has my complete and unwavering support.''

The families of slain San Diego police Officer Jonathan "J.D." DeGuzman and his partner, Officer Wade Irwin, attended Thursday's address and received standing ovations from the audience. Irwin was seriously injured in the July shooting that took DeGuzman's life. DeGuzman's children, Jonathan and Amira, led the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

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