In January, San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey pledged to put up a ballot measure that would finally deal with the city’s large infrastructure funding dilemma.
But instead of raising new money through a tax, or identifying things he would cut to free up money, Kersey settled on a multi-decade plan to simply force the city to prioritize decaying streets, facilities and other concrete needs.
It won’t, however, produce enough money to pay for all the stuff that needs fixing right away. History shows that in the long term, approaches like this one haven’t worked here. And Kersey’s plan reveals we’re still a long way from actually resolving the infrastructure problem.
Before I get into all that, here’s a breakdown of what the proposal will do.
Kersey’s Plan: The Basics
Most years, the money the city collects from taxes grows. Kersey wants to tie the hands of future politicians to ensure that a portion of that growth is always set aside for infrastructure in three ways:
• A large percentage of natural growth in sales tax revenues over the next three decades
We Stand Up For You. Will You Stand Up For Us?
We don't need to raise taxes. We have so much we can give millions to sports teams. Or to look at the other way. I have a plan how to get 200 million to fix streets. Still does leave us 1.5 billion short.
Kersey's plan is idiotic. We would be better off having politicians do nothing rather than produce nonsense like this idea.
I’ve never met Mr. Kersey and have no opinion on his competence, energy or trustworthiness.But, shouldn’t we cut the guy some slack? He volunteered for this mission impossible and has at least produced a list of what has to be done.Those people who are pooh poohing his efforts because he hasn’t proposed a nice, fat tax increase are blowing a bit of smoke themselves.
With two recent school bonds looking increasingly like P.R. disasters and California finances and governance looking very questionable as well (See, e.g., today’s U.T. op-ed piece about the water situation), do you really think a self imposed tax increase on city residents has a prayer?
What form would it take, sales tax perhaps? California sales taxes are among the highest in the nation, and imposing a significant CITY sales tax looks to me like a non-starter. Want to try a property tax increase, maybe an add-on like we get for schools? See above.
What OUGHT to be done, but won’t, is to roll back the huge increase in pensions for city employees and increase the retirement eligibility age. It’s a non-starter because it’s currently illegal, thanks to our special interest controlled legislature.
So, Kersey bashers, let’s hear YOUR plan, particularly how you’ll get it by the voters.
Mr. Bradshaw: While I appreciate that you have a concern about pensions for city employees, with which I mostly disagree, the legislature is not the culprit here. The California Supreme Court, in various decisions, has found it to be unconstitutional to abrogate commitments made to employees in this regard. I would note also that the median pension for a city employee is around $45,000 per year and that the pension system is expected to be 100% funded by 2022. I appreciate that you consider public employees to be a pinata to blame the ills of the city upon, but whether there is a pension or a 401(k), the city will have an obligation to fund it. The present system for new employees is that eligible new hires who are non-safety employees are required to contribute 9.2 percent of their compensation to the plan, which is matched by a 9.2 percent employer (city) contribution. Like all responsible employers, the city contributes to retirement benefits for its employees.
@Chris Brewster As I asked in my letter, what's YOUR plan?
Mr. Bradshaw: Budget a reasonable amount on an annual basis and address the problem over time. Rationale: The reason we get into these holes is due to failure to keep up with infrastructure needs on an annual basis (i.e. routine maintenance). When there is a big enough backlog and a "crisis" the problem is typically addressed with a bond, which is paid off over the long-term. That handcuffs future leaders, who must pay off a bond that was spent prior to their ascension. Kersey proposes a variation on this concept. Our infrastructure maintenance needs are substantial, but not so substantial that they cannot be addressed over time by carving out a reasonable amount of the budget each year. Alas, funding infrastructure is incremental, boring, and gets few politicians reelected. Kersey's plan is to force future political leaders to take prescribed actions. That is what's known as kicking the can down the road. Why not simply come up with a four year plan to fund a chunk of the needs using a prescribed percent of the general fund?
@Chris Brewster Because insulating people from the consequences of their decisions is never a good idea. It would be far better to pay for the roads with gas taxes and other user fees instead of out of the general fund.
Other than that, I agree with your other points.
Why should politicians be given credit for sub-par plans that in effect simply kick the can down the road?
B. Bradshaw: We have a backlog of infrastructure problems. Put it to a vote to raise taxes to pay for it. If people are unwilling to spend money, then we continue driving on 3rd world crumbling roads. It's that simple. If there was a magic wand that gives us updated infrastructure without spending money, it would have been done by now. Kersey is not a magician. He's a political hack trying to do what many inept politicians have done for decades - promise something for nothing.
So if the city leaders have their way, and everything goes according to plan, then the June 2016 ballot will have:
1.$300M to pay the Chargers to build a new stadium
2.$0 to pay for city infrastructure improvements
Is that right? Are those 2 things really going to appear on the ballot side by side? And what would it mean for the people of this city if we were dumb enough to vote yes on these?
If we aren't willing to approve a tax increase to fix potholes, doesn't it prove that we think they aren't worth fixing? So why are decaying streets a "problem"?
@David Crossley Could you elaborate?
@Derek Hofmann --It proves nothing of the sort. If anything, it proves the city has their priorities in the wrong place. The streets are definitely worth fixing--but the longer it is put off, the more it will cost. Example--Allied Gardens. Many streets weren't even slurry-sealed for years, which led to the streets being ground down and repaved, which had to be much more expensive than regular slurry sealing of the existing street.
By 2050, the city's population is expected to approach 2 million, and the city will need those crumbling streets (and parking), along with more streets and more public transportation as well. You still want those old streets to crumble? Or, should I ask, are you willing to vote for a tax increase to fix it? I am.