continued Another panel member, National Steel and Shipbuilding's Richard D. Vortmann, a La Jolla resident and Murphy backer, also refused to discuss the board or its work and secretive procedures. "I should not and will not be communicating with you prior to the release of our report. You must talk to Joe Craver." Vortmann said he would ask Craver to respond to an interview request, but Craver subsequently failed to return numerous calls placed to the office of his Galaxie Management. A secretary said he was present in the office but declined to come to the phone.
Just what has the mayor's blue-ribbon panel been up to, then? The question is being asked around city hall more frequently, especially in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which have led to what city insiders say is a serious fall-off in hotel- and sales-tax revenue. With many hotels half-empty and the future of the convention business cast into doubt, at least in the months to come, the city's ability to balance its budget and still finance a host of big-money projects -- such as the downtown baseball stadium and library -- seem questionable to some.
Many other California cities are facing the same predicament, and some have already begun to carefully reexamine their budget projections, worried that tax losses could result in service cutbacks and even widespread layoffs for city employees. Last Monday in San Francisco, for example, Mayor Willie Brown met behind closed doors with business leaders and municipal financial specialists to sort out the impact of the crisis, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
San Francisco officials are worried that the city's hotel tax, which last year netted $195 million, and its sales tax, which brought the city's general fund $145 million, along with a business tax that amounted to $270 million, will drop off sharply during what many expect will be a coming recession. "We really don't know what the worst case will be because we don't know when, or if, the other shoe will drop," San Francisco city controller Ed Harrington told the Chronicle. Warning that "everything is not fine in San Francisco," Supervisor Gavin Newsom has called for creating a priority list of jobs and projects that might be cut if the city runs short of cash.
In San Diego, however, city officials have managed to keep any concerns they have about the budget under wraps. A priority list of taxpayer-funded capital projects might end up pitting the proposed downtown baseball stadium against the library or present other politically unsavory choices, especially with ballpark financing currently hanging in the balance. A source in the city auditor's office says that figures on September hotel-tax revenues won't be available until late next month, and sales tax money figures for the third quarter wouldn't be available until the end of the year.
One indication of internal concern, however, may be Murphy's decision last week to surface a proposal to hike the hotel tax from 10.5 percent to 13.5 percent, with automatic increases after that. Firefighters union chief Ron Saathoff, widely regarded as the mayor's stalking horse on the increase, said more money was needed to replace worn out fire-fighting equipment, but insiders note that the city has long been lavishing funds on such nonessentials as Qualcomm Stadium and Chargers' ticket guarantee.
In any case, Murphy's blue-ribbon panel on city finances has declined to take up any of the budget controversies in public. According to Marian Thompson, personal secretary to San Diego City Auditor Ed Ryan, the group has not met since August 31 and as of last week had no future meetings scheduled. "There will not be an open meeting and no notices are published," she notes. "It's just a study going on right now, which is a work in progress."
As for when the committee's final report might be completed, Anderson says, "We thought it might be sometime this month until what happened in New York and Washington, which has really hit kind of hard. We were waiting for everybody to get their portion done and then they would have a meeting to review it and get it ready for a formal presentation to the mayor. It seems to me that most people are so busy on a number of other issues and knowing that the mayor is tied up on other issues, it will probably take a while."