San Diego City Councilman’s Mark Kersey’s infrastructure ballot measure sure looks like it’s going on the June ballot. Last month, Council President Sherri Lightner endorsed the idea, which, if approved, would dedicate a large portion of the city’s projected future tax dollars to street, sidewalk and other repairs. Then last week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer jumped aboard.

Last week, Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin also seemed to give Kersey’s plan more momentum when she released a report that the Union-Tribune said praised the measure.

Indeed, Tevlin called Kersey’s ballot measure prudent – provided that it’s flexible enough for the city to do away with its requirements in emergencies. But if you read her report closely, Tevlin essentially says that Kersey’s idea isn’t going to fix the city’s massive infrastructure problems:

As we have stated in numerous reports and presentations over the past several years, addressing the City’s extensive infrastructure needs remains the most significant financial challenge facing the City of San Diego. Based on the magnitude of the problem, we advocated for a new dedicated funding source to be identified such as a reasonable increase to either sales tax or property tax, in a June 2015 report to the Infrastructure Committee (“Ballot Scenarios for Infrastructure Funding”).

Tevlin also notes, “a new revenue source is needed and should remain a priority for the near future” for infrastructure.

Translation: Any infrastructure solution that doesn’t include a tax increase won’t generate enough money. Remember that our infrastructure deficit over the next five years is $1.4 billion, and Tevlin warns in her report that we still don’t know the condition of everything in the city that needs repairs and how much it’ll cost to fix. Alternatively, the city could make massive cuts to other services to properly fund infrastructure without a tax increase, but no plan like that is on the table.

Ideas like Kersey’s might provide some window dressing by formally dedicating existing tax dollars to infrastructure, but the math proves that the city still has a long way to go.

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    This article relates to: Government, Infrastructure, Must Reads, Streets and Sidewalks

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    "we still don’t know the condition of everything in the city that needs repairs and how much it’ll cost to fix"

    Yet, you know for a fact that we need a tax increase and that the infrastructure situation is so dismal.  Consider me skeptical.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    The reason that San Diego's infrastructure is in bad shape is that political leaders over the years have failed to budget funds for it. The reason they have failed to budget funds for it is that infrastructure upkeep is not something that inspires the electorate to vote for politicians, since it is by nature incremental and boring. Politicians, especially in a world of term limits, kick the can down the road to the next politician, who does the same, which is why the problem exists. Because of term limits there is no real accountability for underfunding infrastructure upkeep. The incremental nature of infrastructure degradation allows politicians to lament the failures of their predecessors without being held accountable for their own. 

    Kersey's plan is essentially to handcuff future political leaders (not himself necessarily) to budget more realistically, though according to Tevlin not truly realistically, for infrastructure upkeep.  

    Will it work? Probably not. The only real fix would be to change the San Diego charter to state that X% of the general fund must be used each year for infrastructure upkeep. That, however, would probably never be proposed because it would mean that politicians would have X% less to spend on projects that are higher profile than boring infrastructure upkeep and thus help get them (re)elected. 

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    @Chris Brewster That is an oversimplification.  Perhaps if we had not locked ourselves into outrageous pension benefit increases, we'd have more money to spend on infrastructure.  Those that are making hundreds of thousands per year in salary have plenty of money to buy property and invest, but for some reason some found it necessary to guarantee them their highest salary every year after retirement until they die.  There are many reasons that the city is now painted into a corner, and not just one.  Then look at the situation with the convention center where the government can't even pay off the old debt and now want even more debt to pay for an upgrade when the last upgrade hasn't even been paid for.  People always say that we need representatives with experience, but experience at what?  Ripping us off?  Then again, people have been saying that the sky is falling for years, and yet the roads are still good enough for me to get to work every day.  It's difficult to understand who to believe these days.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Liam,  Let's see if I understand your interpretation of Tevlin's position.  You say that Tevlin, while supporting Kersey's plan, actually opposes it because it doesn't include a tax increase.  Huh?  Tell me the last time the voters of San Diego approved either a sales tax increase or voted to increase their property taxes.  

    Looks like you just identified the solution to the Chargers' dilemma.  All they have to do is get the public to raise it's taxes.  Simple.  Kersey's approach might work; it's a lot surer bet than what Tevlin talks about.

    Liam Dillon
    Liam Dillon memberadministrator

    @Bill Bradshaw Hi Bill. Thanks for reading. My take is what the headline says. The IBA said Kersey's measure is fine for what it is -- provided that it provides sufficient flexibility. But it's not going to solve the infrastructure problem it purports to address. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Liam Dillon @Bill Bradshaw I believe you are right about Tevlin’s message, and I’m a big fan of hers. But, like most unelected bureaucrats, she has lately started expanding her mission way beyond budget analysis.It’s the council and the voters’ call as to whether Kersey’s plan is adequate.Of course you can always throw more money at a problem, and I’m sure not every need will be met if Kersey’s scheme is approved, but it’s a serious proposal and likely better than anything else that has a chance of passing.

    And of course there will be a provision for “emergencies”, hopefully one that defines “emergency” as something more than a sudden higher priority designed to please a favored constituency like, say, the hotel lobby or firefighters union.  We played that game with Mission Bay Park for decades.  The lease money kept rolling in and being diverted to other needs.