Leno, Migden, and the Newsom cuts

It's critical that every progressive leader in town be willing to take on the mayor's brutal budget cuts

EDITORIAL The closure this week of the venerable Haight Ashbury Food Program, which for more than a quarter century has served hot meals to hundreds of people a day, is another bitter reminder of what a rotten time it is to be poor in San Francisco.

Mayor Gavin Newsom's approach to the city's budget problems is to cut programs that serve the needy: Buster's Place, the city's only 24-hour drop-in center for homeless people, is closed. The public health nursing program is shutting down. Frontline city workers are getting laid off, and jobs will go unfilled. And there is no talk in the mayor's office of any sort of comprehensive plan to raise new revenue to close what has become a structural budget gap of more than $300 million.

Yes, a big part of the fault lies in Washington DC and Sacramento. The federal government has abandoned American cities. The state is wracked with its own paralyzing budget problems (caused in large part by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to eliminate the vehicle license fee). So money that San Francisco used to get without any direct effort — that is, without asking local residents and businesses to pay for it — is gone. And while San Francisco's representatives in Sacramento have worked hard to win back money for cities and force the governor to moderate his cuts, the fact is that it's unlikely San Francisco can count on any outside help during the next few years. The ugly budget choices have to be made at home.

That's why it's critical that every progressive leader in town be willing to take on the mayor's brutal budget cuts and push for humane alternatives. That includes the two people running in a highly contested race for state Senate.

Carole Migden and Mark Leno are both seeking progressive support in the June primary. Both have good cases to make based on their records. But we need to see more than just good votes (and good legislation) in the state capital; like a lot of voters, we're also looking to see which candidate will use the powerful seat and its bully pulpit to promote progressive values in the city.

Both candidates have long connections to the powerful forces that seek to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Migden is close to Don Fisher, the Republican who pours huge gobs of money into regressive local measures and candidates. Leno has been endorsed by Newsom.

But with the election less than two months away, we'd like to hear both of them say, loudly and publicly, that the Newsom cuts are wrong and unacceptable, that the budget pain should be shared by the wealthy, and that the city needs to look at new taxes before it eliminates any more programs for the needy.