The City Council-approved financing for the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center has become the most interesting issue separating Mayoral candidates Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner.
It is interesting because, Republican DeMaio voted for the hotel tax increase and Democrat Filner is blasting the conservative populist DeMaio for voting for a tax increase without a public vote.
Filner also takes issue with the Council’s agreement with the hotel industry to commit the entirety of the hotel tax revenue to the Convention Center expansion and giving control over the expenditures to the hotel industry itself.
Hotel industry representatives argue that the hotel owners are agreeing to “assess” themselves and object to the use of the term “tax.” Indeed this is the issue being challenged in court through a validation action in which the city seeks prior protection from the courts before issuing bonds secured against the agreed-upon revenue stream.
Filner argues that, whether you call it a tax or an assessment, it should still be treated as public money and put to public use. He has gone one step further and echoed Governor Jerry Brown’s declaration that no taxes should be increased without a public vote.
This position puts both Brown and Filner in conflict with most Democrats who are working hard to win veto-proof majorities in the State legislature in order to gain the ability to override Brown and pass tax increases or reform measures without a public vote.
DeMaio’s support of the tax increase without a public vote also puts him in a position opposing most Republicans.
The Convention Center expansion proposal is apple pie in the downtown business and hotel community and a high priority for outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders. In fact, there has been much speculation that Sanders’ endorsement of DeMaio, who he has publicly tangled with over the years, is directly tied to DeMaio’s agreement to support the Convention Center expansion.
Filner has been careful to frame his position as favoring expansion but opposing the proposed financing and emphasizing that any “tax increase” must be subject to a public vote. Filner started pounding away on this point only a few days ahead of Republicans launching radio spots supporting George Plescia in the 39th State Senate District which echo the same Jerry Brown inspired “no tax increases without a vote of the people” theme.
Obviously, all of the players are polling, and it would appear that they are all picking up on the same populist thought: taxes should not be increased without a public vote.
Whether this is “good government” or not is open for debate but a lot of people on both sides are betting that it is good politics. The reality might very well be that the public has simply evolved to this view. It is just another chapter in the evolution away from representative democracy to direct democracy. Voters increasingly feel empowered to take the big decisions out of the hands of their elected representatives and reserve the ultimate decisions for themselves.