In the final hours of bargaining over the state budget last week, a San Diego lawmaker ran a remarkable two-minute drill, bootlegging a measure into the budget that would lift the cap on redevelopment spending in downtown San Diego -- and create clear skies for a Chargers stadium deal.
The quarterback in all this was state Rep. Nathan Fletcher, (R-75th District), whom Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger complimented for doing "a good job" on the measure.
Without the measure, downtown redevelopment spending was projected to reach its state-imposed limit in about 13 years. Now, billions of dollars more can be invested in Centre City infrastructure and a wide range of projects within the area -- including a stadium.
"You know, in a down economy, it's the best time to build," Fletcher told reporters Friday, following a Lindbergh Field news conference in which the governor outlined his favorite features of the budget deal.
"Material costs are down, labor costs are down," Fletcher noted. "Particularly when you look at the really high number of our people that are unemployed."
Tax revenues generated within a redevelopment area stay there, unshared with other taxing agencies unless otherwise agreed on.
The city was embarking on a consulting study of the spending cap until Fletcher's bill came along.
"With this, we don't have to go through that long study, spend that million dollars," San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said in the aftermath of Fletcher's legislation. "We'll simply negotiate with our partners, the county and the schools, and come up with an agreement, and then move ahead very quickly with jobs, affordable housing, all the rest that goes with it."
But the last-minute nature of the spending cap's removal in Sacramento, with no prior notice to stakeholders in the issue or public vetting of the details, is raising numerous questions and objections.
"A form of corporate welfare at its worst" is how a fellow Republican Assemblyman described Fletcher's undertaking. Several local officials say they were blindsided by the budget provision, and two members of San Diego County's legislative delegation pointedly withheld votes on the measure.
"The rest of the city is deteriorating; there are services falling apart," says Scott Lewis, CEO of the online newspaper voiceofsandiego.org. Lewis pointed out that the city's other partners in taxation are struggling, too, and were hoping for an early cut of redevelopment dollars before the spending cap otherwise would have been reached.
"And yet, downtown is going to be showered with investments in the form of subsidies for hotel builders, subsidies for condo buildings, subsidies of all kinds," Lewis said in an interview Monday.
It's not clear how or whether Fletcher's last-minute scoring play could be reversed.
The measure was attached to a "trailer bill" involving agriculture; legislative rules require that bills be limited to single subjects or closely related subjects.