EDITORIAL We're generally not for cutting employee salaries to address the city's budget deficit. And we've never been fond of claiming that doctors and lawyers who earn less-than-market wages working for the city of San Francisco should be penalized because they earn what appear in newspaper stories to be fat paychecks.
But Sup. Aaron Peskin was not on the wrong track when he suggested, only slightly facetiously, that Mayor Gavin Newsom ought to be looking for high-paid staffers to cut instead of slicing services for the poor. Peskin's point was not so much that the top layers of city bureaucracy were outrageously overpaid (although a few of the mayor's aides and some of the department heads he's hired could fit in that category) but that all of the cuts have come at the bottom. Find 10 surplus bureaucrats making $150,000 a year and you could save the entire program that provides public-health nurse visits for chronically ill San Franciscans.
Sure, some of this is politics: Newsom is taking a stab at the mayor with a suggestion bound to win popular support. But it's also a serious policy issue: when the city's in the red, where should the burden fall? In Newsom's current budget proposals, it falls almost entirely in the wrong places.
Eliminating a deficit of more than $300 million is daunting. Of course, the city wouldn't have this problem if Newsom and his predecessors had been willing to look at obvious (and flexible) sources of new revenue. Public power alone would've brought in almost enough to cover this year's shortfall (and would have earned the city so much cash during the better years that it could have been set aside in a rainy-day fund to prevent these kinds of budget roller-coasters). The city's major taxes are a regressive mess; fixing the business tax alone (and making it more progressive) would help the economy and allow the city to raise cash from those most able to pay.
In other words, instead of axing nurses who help sick and housebound senior citizens, Newsom ought to be looking for money from the wealthy.
But right now, the mayor is talking only cuts and for the most part, only cuts of lower-paid, front-line workers. The least the mayor could do is make a good-faith effort to share the pain. Looking for 10 useless high-paid execs in order to save public health nursing? How about former Sup. Bill Maher, who earns $144,838 out at the airport, where the last time we checked (see Here's Bill; 5/26/06) he hardly ever showed up for work? Nine more patronage cronies, Mr. Mayor, and you'll make the nut.
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