SANDAG board calls for probe of faulty sales tax projections

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SAN DIEGO — The board of directors of the San Diego Association of Governments Friday authorized an independent investigation into how the public was presented with faulty revenue projections before voting on a tax increase ballot proposition.

The directors unanimously agreed that the credibility of SANDAG was damaged by revelations that staff knew before the November election that the figures for Measure A were incorrect, but failed to inform board members.

SANDAG officials supported the proposition last fall by arguing that passage would result in $18 billion of revenue to spend on transportation and environmental projects over the next four decades.

Documents obtained by the online publication Voice of San Diego indicated that staff discovered a modeling error that overstated the likely proceeds, but didn’t change the projection. Measure A ended up with a majority of support from voters, but not the two-thirds required by a planned sales tax increase.

Several board members said modeling errors that led to the bad forecast were a problem, but not the largest headache.

“The issue … is was any pertinent information withheld from the public prior to voting on Measure A, prior to the election,” county Supervisor Dianne Jacob said. “Was there something intentionally done? Was there information withheld that the public should have and could have known about? And then, after we find that out, would it have made a difference in the outcome of Measure A?”

She said the organization’s credibility was “on the line.”

SANDAG Chairman Ron Roberts said the investigation will delve into who knew what and when.

“It’s been implied that there may have been a conspiracy to hide all of this from all of us on this board,” Roberts said. “I want to clear the air of that. If there was, I want to know about it — I want to find out who was in on it.”

He gave staff two weeks to recommend an outside entity to conduct the investigation. A final decision on who to retain will be made by the directors, who are made up of elected officials from around the county.

The board also approved a seven-part work plan proposed by the staff of SANDAG, the regional planning agency.

The work plan includes:

— reviewing economic model data to ensure accuracy and integrity of result;

— identifying key SANDAG reports that used the data and evaluating the significance of impacts from potential forecasting errors on policy recommendations;

— convening a panel of experts in economics, demographics and land use to validate a new forecasting model; and

— developing data transparency standards to ensure that others can see how models were developed, how data was processed and what assumptions were made along the way.

Other points included developing and formalizing processes for staff to use, and improving interactions between technical and other SANDAG employees.