Through two mayoral administrations and almost an entire decade, Donna Frye sat in the hinterlands of the San Diego City Council, talking herself hoarse, failing to gain traction among her colleagues on some of her most important issues. How ironic is it, then, that on two recent big-ticket items, she provided the deciding vote? A few weeks ago, it was to allow construction of a partially funded new main library and, this week, to stop a sales-tax increase from reaching a public vote.
She's been saying for five years that she'd consider raising taxes if it came as part of a comprehensive package that included pension reform, as she told her colleagues on Monday in a pointed admonishment, but since the proposed tax hike came to the party alone, she wasn't having it.
As has been covered well by voiceofsandiego.org's Scott Lewis, Frye left the door open for very public negotiations—and Councilmember Carl DeMaio started asking questions about companion reform measures—but City Council President Ben Hueso wasn't having that. Lame.
So, there you have it—one $103-million bullet removed from the chamber, and a snarling beast that's hungry and getting hungrier is closing in. That beast would be a $72million budget-deficit bill that comes due next July 1.
But wait! By Tuesday morning, Frye had gotten Hueso to agree to convene a special meeting during which the City Council would attempt to come up with a single ballot measure that would raise the sales tax and mandate further reforms to the pension system.
CityBeat is not necessarily in favor of a sales-tax increase, but something has to be done, and we want to watch the debate play out. As we said in this space two weeks ago, we'd have preferred it if Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City Council had shown the leadership necessary two years ago to raise fees on property owners for trash pickup and storm-drain maintenance. Instead, knowing full well what they were facing, they charged recklessly in the direction of the snarling beast without a weapon.
At the 11th hour, Sanders started whispering in the ears of the City Council about a sales-tax increase, but as soon as he believed he might not have the votes to get it to the ballot, he yanked the idea, saying it just wasn't the right time for a tax hike. That's probably why on Monday, at a critical crossroads in the city's journey, San Diego's chief executive—its “strong” mayor—was missing in action. He left his top deputy, Jay Goldstone, twisting in the wind, invoking the specter of 700 police layoffs and 23 fire-station closures but unable to muster an opinion on the sales-tax hike when asked for one by Councilmember Marti Emerald.
Sadly, our leader won't go out on a limb unless it's only six inches off the ground. Pathetic.
On the other hand, Sanders doesn't hold much sway over Frye or DeMaio, so, unless he were able to convince Councilmember Kevin Faulconer to dabble in the art of tax-and-spend, there's not much he could have done at this stage of the game. Faulconer is a card-carrying member of the No-Tax Brigade, which has been lying to the public by saying that the city has done nothing to reform its employee-pension system.
Can more be done to reduce pension costs? Yes. But to say that nothing has been done is bull. Aside from the city tinkering with user fees for some services, and aside from the general public, which has sacrificed in the form of reduced services, the employee unions are the only players who have given up anything—current employees have had their compensation cut, and new hires are entering into a less-generous pension system. We hope the council reaches an agreement this week; it'll be fun to see what the No- Tax Brigade does with the ball in its court.
In any case, if someone has a chance to forge a breakthrough, we're glad it's Frye, who, unlike Faulconer, DeMaio and Hueso, carries tons of credibility into the negotiations. She's consistent, independent and principled and isn't on some partisan (Faulconer, Hueso) or ideological (DeMaio) crusade.
Wouldn't it be poetic if she—after years of being shunned by those in power and dodging constant insults from a San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board that until recently refused to see Frye as the true taxpayer advocate that she is—were the one to slay the snarling beast?
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