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Compiling a comprehensive and viable infrastructure plan for the 2016 ballot won’t be easy. And we’ll have to make sure taxpayers are protected.
San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey has made a bold declaration: He committed to drafting a plan to go on the November 2016 ballot to fix our roads, parks, sewer lines and other infrastructure needs.
He isn’t alone in his desire to address these repairs in our city. Mayor Kevin Faulconer gave the issue top billing in his State of the City address, and each Council member made it a priority in recent budget memos. It should be a priority.
Investing in infrastructure is investing in San Diego’s economy and quality of life.
But compiling a comprehensive and viable infrastructure plan for the 2016 ballot won’t be easy. And we’ll have to make sure taxpayers are protected. The San Diego County Taxpayers Association will only endorse a plan that is achievable, efficient and effective – in short, a plan that’s worthy of taxpayer support. Here’s what those standards would look like.
The city hasn’t proven to taxpayers that it can manage assets well. Broken water mains, potholes, neglected parks and a crumbling football stadium have shown that the city struggles to maintain what it already has. As an example, the city should provide better stewardship of the tens of millions of dollars it’s received from Transnet, the county’s half-cent sales tax surcharge for infrastructure projects.
Incremental progress and transparency can build a track record and earn back voters’ trust. While the city has become more efficient at building and managing infrastructure, there is more progress to be made, and communicating successes to the public will continue to be a challenge.
When taxpayers trust government to effectively manage smaller projects, it’s not quite as big a leap to ask for their trust to pursue more ambitious goals.
It’s unlikely that the public is ready to approve a ballot measure that would be big enough to fix everything.
For example, there are approximately 40,000 people waiting for subsidized housing. The city has to make more progress on building affordable units than the insignificant growth made each year, but raising billions of dollars for housing alone is unrealistic. The city’s going to face the same issue when planning to tackle storm drains, parks and almost every other asset. Any financing plan needs to first identify attainable goals.
We could make all of our streets perfect, but taxpayers would be shocked by the massive bill. The city needs to decide how many potholes are too many, and how many residents will accept. This judgment must be informed by the people who drive on city roads every day. Any plan to fix streets, sidewalks, fire stations and other city buildings needs to explicitly identify target levels of service based on sincere outreach.
Every neighborhood has infrastructure priorities. Voters deserve to know what they’re voting for, so promises need to be explicit and detailed. Taxpayers expect their dollars to be clearly linked to improving their quality of life. Infrastructure isn’t an impulse buy. It’s a down payment on a better San Diego for everyone.
San Diegans deserve a plan that provides formal oversight. Without taxpayer supervision, and without a legally binding plan, dollars can be siphoned for other purposes. That’s why the proposal should include an independent taxpayer oversight committee whose sole purpose would be to follow each project from planning through completion.
The decision to fund this ambitious project could be made as early as next November, but the duty to oversee and safeguard these tax dollars will last for decades.
W. Mark Leslie is president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Leslie’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.