The Year of the Megabond Is Now the Year of Two Non-Mega Measures
With the megabond’s death, dreams of slaying the city’s infrastructure burden next year are dashed. In its place could be two other ballot measures that present problems of their own.
Three years ago, during his inauguration as City Council President, Todd Gloria said a big bond to fund the city’s backbreaking backlog of street repairs was coming.
Two years ago, during his lone State of the City address as interim mayor, Gloria said again that the big bond, which we dubbed the megabond, was coming.
Last year, Gloria was no longer interim mayor and his colleagues unceremoniously stripped him of the Council president job. By that point, his hope was dwindling.
And now with 2016 on the horizon, Gloria has no more hope.
“For someone like myself, where this is a personal passion, we’re not where I’d like to be in light of size of the need from when I was elected Council president,” Gloria said.
The coming year was supposed to be the one that gave the city the best chance of passing a bond. A bond to fund the city’s infrastructure problems would come with a tax increase and require two-thirds of voters to say yes. November 2016 is a presidential election, a year in which voter turnout tends to be higher, especially among those who might support a tax hike. Take a recent example. In 2010, a non-presidential year, a school tax got smashed. In 2012, a school bond passed.
Not all tax hikes are created equal and certainly, voters who reject them have their reasons. In this case, though, it’s a matter of simple math. The city’s overall infrastructure deficit numbers in the billions, so either the city needs to have more money or make drastic cuts to close the gap.
Many are responsible for the death of the megabond. There were occasional discussions between business and labor groups about getting it done, and politicians flitted in and out of the debate. But no one emerged as a leader. Mayor Kevin Faulconer was publicly against the effort from Day 1. Gloria said his experience on a losing sales tax campaign five years ago convinced him that it’s impossible to pass a tax hike unless everyone is on board.
In the megabond’s place, there’s a chance voters will be deciding at least two other infrastructure plans in 2016.
The first is from City Councilman Mark Kersey. He wants to formally set aside part of the city’s budget to pay for repairs and new facilities. But that proposal won’t fix the problem and the city has a failed history with similar approaches.
Gloria opposes Kersey’s measure for the same reason he was against then-Councilman Carl DeMaio’s plan to do roughly the same thing three years ago: It doesn’t generate enough money to fix the problem and ties future Councils’ hands on the budget. DeMaio’s effort was laughed out of the room, but Kersey’s has gotten mostly kind reviews from his colleagues and interest groups and looks poised to make it onto the June ballot.
“No one wants to kick a guy who’s working hard,” Gloria said of Kersey. “That said, what I’ve certainly observed and what the [independent budget analyst] has confirmed is that we need additional resources to this.”
Gloria is optimistic about the chances of a potential sales tax hike through SANDAG to fund infrastructure in November. SANDAG has a history of getting such measures passed, but since the effort would be countywide, it also likely wouldn’t provide as much money as a stand-alone city measure would.
Going outside the city creates a whole other set of problems. North County representatives are unlikely to get on board for the tax hike unless it includes money to widen State Route 78. Local environmentalists don’t want to send one penny to widen roads, and want to dedicate all the money to public transit projects. SANDAG’s board is scheduled to discuss the tax again in the spring.