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Government ‘Two-thirds’ vote proposal goes before council

The San Diego City Council is expected to discuss a proposed ballot measure that could affect future hotel taxes and other taxes.

The measure, which will be discussed at the council’s Nov. 19 meeting, would ask that any ballot item involving issues of two-thirds majority approval would itself have to be approved by two-thirds of citywide voters.

The proposal will be an alternative to another ballot measure asking that all general purpose tax increases be approved by a two-thirds majority.

Nov. 19 isn’t necessarily the last day the issue could be discussed, said City Attorney Casey Gwinn. The council will have until Dec. 7 to draft its own measures for the March ballot, Gwinn said.

Measures coming from the public have to be finalized by the end of November.

The timeline is set up to give the city attorney’s office enough time to prepare the measure, then give the council time to review and vote on it, Gwinn said.

Under the city’s current laws, a two-thirds approval is required for tax increases for a specific purpose.

More than 50 percent is required for increases that would go directly into a city’s general fund and whose uses are unspecified.

Dubbed “Two-thirds by two-thirds,” the proposal council members will discuss on the 19th would combat what’s formally been called “The San Diego Taxpayers Protection Act,” which already is set for the March ballot.

The latter’s petition drive was reportedly supported by Doug Manchester, who owns Manchester Resorts and shares of several major hotels in the city.

A representative for Manchester Resorts did not return a call for comment.

The Taxpayers Protection Act would directly affect transient occupancy taxes paid on each hotel room booked in the city.

The hotel industry, like the rest of the tourism industry, for the most part prefers to keep the tax as low as possible. They consider it a major selling point.

In San Diego, the TOT is 10.5 percent. The figure sits between West Coast competitors such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the hotel taxes are higher, and cities such as Las Vegas, where it is lower.

Currently, state laws have San Diego following Proposition 218, which requires that every city in California must have a public vote to raise taxes.

Few of the tourism organizations in town, considered “stakeholders” in the issue, have taken an official position on the new two-thirds proposal.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce was slated to decide whether to take a position on the proposal Nov. 15. The final decision was not available by press time.

The Convention & Visitors Bureau didn’t take a position, and the Convention Center Corp. referred any comment on the topic to ConVis.

The San Diego County Hotel/Motel Association did not return calls for comment.

The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture’s board of directors planned to vote on the issue Nov. 16, said Executive Director Victoria Hamilton.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association plans to take a formal position if the proposed measure makes it to the March ballot.

Taxpayers association Executive Director Scott Barnett said his immediate reaction to the proposal was not “overly favorable.”

Barnett said the would-be measure seemed to be bad public policy.

He described it as “using one bad piece of legislation to undo another bad piece of legislation.”

Julie Meier Wright, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., said its executive board hadn’t taken a vote on the topic because there was already a shared consensus to support the two-thirds by two-thirds proposal.

If both measures are on the ballot, several scenarios could ensue.

The Taxpayers Protection initiative would win no matter what if it gets two-thirds voter approval, Gwinn said.

Also, if the city’s proposed “two-thirds by two-thirds” measure didn’t pass and the Taxpayers Protection initiative got more than 50 percent approval, the Taxpayers Protection initiative would still pass, he said.

However, if the city’s proposed “two-thirds by two-thirds” measure wins and the Taxpayers Protection initiative gets less than two-thirds approval, the Taxpayers Protection initiative would not pass.

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