Updated at 9:50 p.m. Jan. 26, 2016

An influential taxpayers group has taken a skeptical look at San Diego Councilman Mark Kersey’s “Rebuild San Diego” ballot proposal to pay for billions in city infrastructure needs.

Haney Hong of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
Haney Hong of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

In so doing, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a GOP-allied nonprofit, found itself critiquing a Republican’s plan on the eve of Tuesday’s council meeting, when the measure will be considered for the June ballot.

“We applaud the effort to identify funding to address the city’s massive infrastructure backlog,” said new SDCTA President and CEO Haney Hong. “Historically, our organization doesn’t support what we consider ballot-box budgeting, but we believe that our recommendations for the measure would provide the flexibility and accountability to finally address the city’s most pressing liability.”

SDCTA suggestions include:

  • The measure should be able to be suspended with a supermajority vote of the City Council, to enable flexibility in crises or emergencies.
  • Baseline programmatic expenditures should be allowed to increase along with the Consumer Price Index.
  • The proposal must include a narrow, concise definition of infrastructure.
  • The proposal must contain a maintenance of effort clause to prevent newly gained funds from being diverted to other budgetary items.
  • Council should consider limiting the duration of the ordinance to 15-20 years.
  • The performance of the ordinance should undergo regular evaluation by the city.

Endorsed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Kersey’s plan is a charter amendment expected to secure up to $5 billion over the next 30 years.

Letter from SDCTA to San Diego mayor and City Council. (PDF)
Letter from SDCTA to San Diego mayor and City Council. (PDF)

“It commits three revenue streams to capital and maintenance costs associated with neighborhood infrastructure, including streets, sidewalks, storm drains, park and recreation facilities, libraries, and police and fire stations,” the mayor’s office said.

In a five-page letter to the mayor and council, SDCTA’s Hong applauded “Kersey’s determination to tackle the city’s pressing infrastructure needs,” but found fault.

“This measure, as currently drafted, constitutes ‘ballot box budgeting,’” Hong said. “When structured improperly, allocating funding by voter mandate can cause lasting damage by not allowing government flexibility to respond to crises and unpredicted budgetary scenarios.”

Hong said this could result in earmarks crowding out other important line items by not leaving enough available funds “for them to function properly.”

“The SDCTA has historically taken a position against such measures,” the letter said. “However, the SDCTA recognizes that the city’s leadership has for years underfunded its obligations to taxpayers to maintain infrastructure as the city has grown and that remedying this situation is absolutely crucial to the continued health of the region.”

The GOP vs. GOP dynamic is unusual, however.

In 2010, San Diego Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna questioned the nonpartisan claim of the SDCTA.

“Over the long haul, … research will find a strong correlation between the SDCTA and the GOP,” Luna wrote. “I don’t think an organization that predominantly and consistently endorses the positions of one of the two parties has a lock on the claim to be ‘nonpartisan.’”

New SDCTA board Chairman Barry Jantz took exception to Luna’s observations.

“I’ve yet to see a policy discussion at SDCTA ever take into account the party registration of a measure’s proponent,” Jantz told Times of San Diego.

The SDCTA recommendations, Jantz said via email, “are at this point neither an endorsement nor a critique. They are items the board believes important to be considered for inclusion in the proposed Rebuild San Diego measure should it move forward at City Council.”

On Tuesday, President Hong said via email that his group was not aligned to any party.

“We are nonpartisan,” he said. “Frankly, good public management and effective use of taxpayer dollars is something everyone should want.”