The Battle Of The Ballot Initiatives
GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week some unexpected developments came out of San Diego City Hall. With us to check into these stories is Craig Gustafson, staff writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune. You’ve been following all of this stuff Craig. So, what’s the latest on the controversial managed competition initiative that Councilman Carl DeMaio was working on for the November ballot.
CRAIG GUSTAFSON (Reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune): It’s over. It’s done. He collected 134,000 signatures to get this ballot measure on the November ballot. It would have made it a lot easier for city to outsource jobs. But when the registrar of voters checked a random sample of signature, they determined that he didn’t have enough to qualify for the ballot. So what happened then, is this whole week there was a back and forth and he had to decide whether he wanted to pay $151,000 to have them check every single signature. And then, lo and behold, half-way through the week, they said you can’t make a challenge to the registrar’s decision and so he decided to give up.
PENNER: Why? Why can’t you make a challenge?
GUSTAFSON: They said it was not a legal option for him. The only recourse he would have had was to sue the city. And he said I don’t want to sue the city because it would be a waste of taxpayer money, because the city would just have to defend itself.
PENNER: He was willing to put forth $151,000 of his own money?
GUSTAFSON: No, it would have been from his supporters, which are mainly contractors.
PENNER: These are the ones who also paid for the signature gatherers?
GUSTAFSON: Yeah, they spent about $160,000 plus to pay for signature gathering, to get the 134,000 signatures.
PENNER: And enough of them were considered invalid signatures so that it threw the whole initiative out?
GUSTAFSON: Yes, exactly.
PENNER: Well, I heard that there were some competing measures being proposed for the ballot to ensure that the living wage would be maintained because there was concern that Carl DeMaio’s initiative would eliminate the living wage. What’s the status of that push now?
GUSTAFSON: Well, there were three labor-backed measures that were in direct response to what DeMaio was trying to do. So they would have done basically the opposite of what he was trying to do. And they, since his measure got disqualified by the registrar they’ve withdrawn theirs and so they’re no longer under consideration.
PENNER: All gone?
PENNER: Do you think that people are still sort of watching to make sure the living wage stays in effect?
GUSTAFSON: I’m sure they’re always going to be watching. And DeMaio has said that you know if he doesn’t see progress at City Hall, he will bring his measure back again in 2012.
PENNER: Well, you reported yesterday that the mayor’s office is considering a proposal to raise the local sales tax by half a cent. How real is that possibility?
GUSTAFSON: It’s very real. The mayor is bringing this up. He is having discussions with city council members about it. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. But it’s definitely a real possibility, because this is a distinct change from what the mayor has said for the past five years. He has consistently said I’m not going to ask taxpayers for an increase until we learn to live within our own means.
PENNER: Well, but the mayor can’t just wave a wand and say okay tax increase. It has to go through a process doesn’t it?
GUSTAFSON: Yeah, you’ve got to get the City Council to put it on the ballot. But there’s a lot of support on the council for new revenue – looking at options to get new revenue. But then once you get it on the ballot you need fifty-plus percent of the voter to approve it as well.
PENNER: Now this is a tax, how come it’s not two-thirds, why is it only a simple majority?
GUSTAFSON: How it works is it is two-thirds threshold if you want to use it for a specific purpose. Let’s say for fire service. A couple years ago there was a parcel tax that would have went directly to fire departments around the county. This is a general tax increase. So that just needs the simple majority and they can use it for whatever they want.
PENNER: It’s going to be interesting to watch a campaign if it does get on the ballot – for and against an increase in the city sales tax.
GUSTAFSON: Well absolutely, and it will be interesting to see how the business community reacts, because they are strong supporters of the mayor and I would imagine that they are not too keen on a tax increase.
PENNER: No not at this point. I mean restaurants are suffering, can you imagine having to add more tax to that restaurant bill? Do you have a sense of how much revenue the city would stand to gain from a half-cent tax?
GUSTAFSON: Yeah there was a committee that was formed by the City Council that looked at all sorts of revenue options and one of them that was in their report was a sales tax, a half-cent sales tax, and they estimated that it could increase the city’s budget by about $103 million. And that’s a total that could eliminate the city’s structural deficit in one fell swoop and they could restore a lot the services that have been cut – like fire service, parks, library hours
PENNER: So those are talking points for the yes campaign if this gets on the ballot?
GUSTAFSON: Yeah and then of course the other side will say everybody’s hurting now and this isn’t the time to be looking at a tax increase.
PENNER: Thank you very much. Craig Gustafson.