Report: SANDAG Staffers Write ‘OMG' in Emails Over Sales Tax Estimates

Emails between San Diego County Association of Governments employees contain comments like “Omg” and “WTF” in regards to the agency’s taxable retail sales estimates. Those estimates were ultimately used to promote the proposed Measure A.

“Newly uncovered emails show that SANDAG staffers knew the $18 billion was unrealistic a year ago,” Voice of San Diego reports Monday. See the full report here.

On November 8, voters rejected Measure A, the proposed half-cent tax for a period of 40 years. A portion of the funds raised by the measure would’ve gone to specific San Diego County transit projects.

Several times, officials told voters Measure A was expected to generate about $18B over 40 years. It was included in a commercial that urged voters to approve Measure A.

“Collecting 23 cents a day from each person in the region could make a big difference. These pennies add up to $18 billion over 40 years. That is local money, that leveraged with federal and state dollars, could fund hundreds of projects to keep San Diego Moving forward,” the commercial touted as reported in NBC 7’s Fact Check three months ago.

However, Voice of San Diego began questioning the estimated revenue based on the funds earned by the 2004 TransNet Half-Cent Sales Tax. That tax was estimated to create $14 billion over 40 years. According to Voice of San Diego, the tax was on track to generate just $9 billion.

The recent recession and residents simply choosing to shop online were among the reasons. 

Voice of San Diego's Andrew Keatts has been following the issue and in December, SANDAG’s chief economist addressed the questions raised over the forecasting model.

“In light of recent news reports that raised concerns that our revenue forecasts were possibly too optimistic, we took a closer look at the forecast methodology that was being used in the plan of finance. And what we found is that there were some aspects of SANDAG’s demographic and economic forecasting model that were overestimating taxable retail sales,” Ray Major said at a SANDAG board meeting.

Asked when the error became apparent, SANDAG Board Chair Ron Roberts told Voice of San Diego it wasn't before the election.

“Before the election, technical staff had not discovered how, or if, the model’s over-estimates could have affected the Measure A revenue forecast,” Roberts said according to an NBC 7 Fact Check in January.

However, Keatts reported the emails suggest SANDAG "continued to rely on numbers they'd been told were faulty." Read the full report here.

Monday afternoon, SANDAG sent a statement in response to the issue: 

"SANDAG staff had not concluded that revenue estimates for Measure A were high before voters went to the polls in November. In fact, SANDAG to this day has not concluded that that is the case. Revenue forecasts by their very nature are an educated guess of what might happen in the future. What the agency did become aware of in December 2015 was that its computer model was producing aggressive forecasts for taxable retail sales. Taxable retail sales estimates are one of a large number of factors that went into revenue forecasting for Measure A. SANDAG has since put more structural oversight in place for its modeling process, developed an independent revenue forecasting methodology, and is moving forward with the revamp of its forecasting model."

Contact Us