The budget's opening battle

Sparks fly from the Newsom/Daly budget battle

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Chris Daly have been engaged in a high-profile clash over city budget priorities in recent weeks. Newsom appeared to win the latest battle when he galvanized an unlikely coalition and Daly clashed with some of his progressive allies, prompting Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin to remove Daly on June 15 as chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.

"This is not about personality, and it shouldn't be about the mayor's race. It should be about making sure we have a good budget," Peskin told the Guardian shortly before announcing that he would be taking over as Budget and Finance chair just as the committee was beginning work on approving a budget by July 1.

Yet this latest budget battle was more about personalities and tactical errors than it was about the larger war over the city's values and spending, areas in which it's far too early for the Newsom camp to declare victory. The reality is that Newsom's "back-to-basics budget" — which would increase spending for police and cityscape improvements and cut health services and affordable-housing programs — is still likely to be significantly altered by the progressives-dominated Board of Supervisors.

In fact, while the recent showdown between Newsom and Daly may have been diffused by Daly's removal as Budget and Finance chair, it's conceivable that a clash between Newsom and the supervisors is still on the horizon. After all, eight supervisors voted for a $28 million affordable-housing supplemental that Newsom refused to sign, and the mayor could yet be forced to decide whether to sign a budget that lies somewhere between his vision and Daly's.

Stepping back from recent events and the supercharged rhetoric behind them, a Guardian analysis of the coming budget fight shows that there are difficult and highly political choices to be made that could have profound effects on what kind of city San Francisco becomes.

If Daly wanted to spark a productive dialogue on whether the mayor's budget priorities are in the best interests of the city, he probably didn't go about it in the right way. But the approach seemed to be born of frustration that the mayor was refusing to implement a duly approved program for an important public need.

Daly has argued that when he introduced his $28 million affordable-housing supplemental in March, he thought it would be "noncontroversial." Last year the board approved and Newsom signed a $54 million supplemental budget, including $20 million in affordable-housing funds. Daly wrote on his blog that he hoped his latest $28 million request would help "stem the tide of families leaving San Francisco, decrease the number of people forced to live on the streets, and help elders live out their days with some dignity."

But Newsom objected, first criticizing Daly in the media for submitting it too late, then refusing to spend money that had been approved by a veto-proof majority, with only his supervisorial allies Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Ed Jew opposed.