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SD council to consider half-cent sales tax measure

By JOE BRITTON

City News Service

A proposal to put a temporary half-cent sales tax increase before San Diego voters in November was advanced by a City Council committee Wednesday.

The Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee voted 4-1 to bring the proposal before the full City Council. Six votes are required to put the sales tax increase on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer cast the lone no vote, arguing that because of the recession, now was the wrong time to increase taxes.

“I do believe asking our neighbors and our families to send more money to City Hall is the wrong thing to do,” Faulconer said.

“We are in the midst of a very deep economic recession,” he said. “I believe that a sales tax increase could have the exact opposite effect of what some are hoping for.’'

It may be a challenge to get the six votes needed to get the proposal on the November ballot.

Councilman Carl DeMaio, who does not sit on the Rules Committee, has joined Faulconer in voicing his opposition to the idea. Of the remaining six council members, only Todd Gloria and Ben Hueso are enthusiastic about the idea.

Nearly two weeks ago, Mayor Jerry Sanders, under pressure from fellow Republicans and business groups, abandoned his proposal to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax hike as one of several options to help solve San Diego’s budget woes.

Rather than let the proposal die, Hueso docketed it at the Rules Committee.

Hueso argued Wednesday that a revenue increase is needed to prevent the further

“decimation” of city services, especially public safety.

“We are talking about just preserving levels where they are today,” Hueso said, adding that the money could also be used to reverse rolling brownouts of fire engine companies in San Diego.

A half-cent sales tax increase would generate $103 million annually, according to Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin.

That’s money Frank DeClercq, president of San Diego City Firefighters Local 145, told the committee could be used to prevent the further erosion of public safety.

“We need to not continue to move backwards,” DeClercq said. “We don’t have a solution any other way.”

He said emergency response times in San Diego are suffering as a result of budget shortfalls..

“We are continuing to see our inability to serve and protect our citizens because of brown outs.”

The city overcame a $179 million budget deficit this fiscal year that led to the elimination of hundreds of positions, cuts to police and fire and reduce library hours. It faces a predicted $79 million budget deficit next year.

Lani Lutar, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, told the committee San Diego should continue to pursue fiscal reforms rather than raise taxes now.

“The money will go into the black hole of City Hall,” she said.

She cited savings the city could achieve if it moved to implement the voter-approved managed competition program, which allows private companies to compete for work now performed by municipal employees.

Others said San Diego residents expect a bevy of services from the city, but aren’t willing to pay for them.

“Always remember the purpose of government is to provide the services and facilities that the people need or want according to their ability and willingness to pay for them,” Phil Hart testified.

According to a poll of 600 registered San Diego voters commissioned by labor groups that was presented to the committee, 59 percent of respondents would support a sales-tax increase.

If the City Council agrees to put the proposal on the ballot, and San Diego voters approve it, the city’s sales tax would go from 8.75 percent to 9.25 percent.