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Guest editorial: Concrete solution to San Diego’s growing infrastructure needs

Posted: June 10th, 2016 | Featured, Guest Editorial, Opinion | No Comments

By Councilman Mark Kersey and Kris Michell

In San Diego, we see every day how neighborhood improvements can have a positive impact on our quality of life. New streetlights make our community safer. Fixing sidewalks increases walkability and improves business frontages. New bike lanes take cars off the road and reduce traffic.

In recent years, residents have seen more of this kind of work because improved economic times have allowed for spending on infrastructure, and Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council have chosen to make it a priority. City streets are being re-surfaced at the rate of 300 miles a year, stormwater and drainage systems are being replaced, public safety facilities including police, lifeguard and fire stations are being built or restored and parks are coming on line.

While this is no doubt positive, it hasn’t always been this way. Fiscal turmoil and budgetary constraints caused by the economic downturn have tied the hands of our elected leaders for more than a decade, forcing infrastructure to be pushed down City Hall’s to-do list. Civic leaders and residents meanwhile struggled to come to consensus on where to get the money needed to address the problem.

With each passing year, the project backlog grew, and by 2015, a city report identified $3.87 billion in rotting infrastructure needs.

While city leaders have recently done a great job chipping away at the backlog, we need to take steps to ensure we never fall behind again. In June’s primary election, San Diego voters are being given a big say on the future direction of San Diego when they go to the polls to vote on a ballot measure that will determine the future of our city’s infrastructure security. We urge you to support Proposition H.

Commonly referred to as the Rebuild San Diego measure, Prop H secures up to $4 billion in future revenue growth specifically for infrastructure — and does so without raising taxes. It’s a long-term plan that ensures the city budget reflects the priorities of San Diego residents who have said time and again that public facilities such as good streets and sidewalks should be among our top budget priorities.

Rather than asking voters to reach into their pockets, a bipartisan super-majority of the City Council sent Proposition H to the ballot in order to prove they can do more with existing tax money. Prop H relies on expected growth in existing revenue streams, and sets aside a portion for infrastructure repair and construction. This ensures infrastructure will remain a key budget priority even as we come out of the crisis stage we’re in now.

Under the measure, over the next 25 years, the city will reserve any growth in the sales tax above the rate of the Consumer Price Index and capture all cash savings from reduced payments to the city’s pension fund. Proposition H will also capture 50 percent of all growth in property tax, hotel tax and franchise fees over the next five years.

The measure isn’t taking money away from other needs to help pay for infrastructure improvements, either; in fact, Proposition H will not take a single dollar away from what is already budgeted for other general fund needs. Instead, it relies on the natural growth of the economy. As the economy grows, the city will invest more in infrastructure. In years it slows, we’ll invest less. If we hit an economic crisis, the measure allows for a one-year suspension upon a vote of the Council.

Let’s not forget that by providing a steady funding stream dedicated to infrastructure, Proposition H will also provide steady jobs for San Diegans. From street repairs to building maintenance, the majority of work will be done by local companies and workers.

In addition to the Downtown San Diego Partnership, Proposition H is supported by Mayor Faulconer, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

For San Diego and Downtown to reach its fullest potential as a world-class city, it’s necessary that we invest in our local assets. We urge your support for Proposition H on Tuesday, June 7th. Let’s continue the momentum and Rebuild San Diego.

—Kris Michell is president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Councilmember Mark Kersey represents the City of San Diego’s 5th Council District. He is Chairman of the City’s Infrastructure Committee.

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