Half-Cent Sales Tax Increase Struck Down by San Diego City Council–But Not Entirely

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In the midst of the worst recession San Diego and much of the country have seen in 40 years, city leaders are scrambling to create a solution that will both eliminate the budget deficit and aid citizens in their efforts to survive the crisis. Until recently, a proposal to put a half-cent sales tax increase on the upcoming November ballot was among the fixes being considered. But that plan may have gone up in smoke on Monday, when the San Diego City Council seemingly abandoned the effort.

The Council initially voted 5-3 to direct the City Attorney’s Office to draft ballot language relating to the measure for later consideration, but as each of the Council members made their views apparent in public testimony, it was clear that the six votes necessary to place the sales tax increase on the Nov. 2 ballot would not be obtained. Councilwoman Donna Frye was the last to thwart the proposal, rejecting it on the grounds that it was not a solution that struck at the root of the issue: “Is it part of a comprehensive plan that I can look at you and tell you it solves the problem? And the answer is no… I can’t. If you come back with an ordinance tomorrow, you will not have my vote to place it on the ballot,” she firmly stated.

The idea of a sales tax increase was revived by City Council President Ben Hueso and placed on the Council’s agenda after the tragic death of two-year old Mira Mesa toddler Bentley Do, who choked to death on a gumball about a week ago. Do’s stepfather placed an emergency 911 call to which the fire department responded 9 ½ minutes later—at which point the young boy had already passed away. San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar stated that emergency services cuts, or brownouts, which have been effect in San Diego since February 6, clearly had a “negative impact” on response times in the case.

Do’s death starkly illuminated the benefits of a sales tax increase for proponents of the measure, who argued that the increase would have generated $103 million annually, more than enough to cover the projected $79 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year and to restore the money taken out of emergency services to boot.

But despite their sadness over Do’s passing, the majority of Council members remained staunchly opposed to the half-cent increase, with Councilwoman Donna Frye and Councilmen Kevin Faulconer and Carl DeMaio among its most ardent naysayers. In a statement on Monday, Faulconer said, “Obviously anytime a child loses his or her life it’s a tragedy. I plan to work with the fire chief and the city’s independent budget analyst to make adjustments where we can. I remain opposed to asking San Diego taxpayers to pay more in taxes in the midst of the worst recession in 40 years.” Because the city hasn’t yet taken steps to fully implement certain reforms, such as privatizing

The San Diego City Council

certain services, the tax increase will do more harm than good, Faulconer argued.

But for those who support the sales tax increase, all hope may not be lost. According to San Diego 6, just this morning Councilwoman Donna Frye called for a special meeting of the City Council to discuss a November ballot measure: “What I am proposing is that we have a public discussion, a public hearing, related to (a) reform and revenue ballot measure, that would be one ballot measure that includes both a revenue discussion, specifically a sales tax, as well as reform measures,” Frye told her fellow Council members in today’s meeting. Council President Ben Hueso responded by assuring Frye the measure would be on the agenda sometime late this week or early next week.

Photos from r-z and Bengt Nyman via flickr

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