And so it begins

Mayor's budget hits poor hard, signaling a big battle with the Board of Supervisors

Mayor Gavin Newsom chose a telling site for the June 2 release of his budget: the San Francisco Police Department's Special Tactical Operations Center at Hunters Point Shipyard. And if its relationship to Proposition G, the mayor's plan to let Lennar Corporation develop the southeast part of the city, wasn't clear enough, Newsom made it explicit.

"You'll have the opportunity to support Proposition G and reject Proposition F, the one that is getting in the way," Newsom told department heads and the press as police, who warned budget protesters that it is illegal to campaign on city property, looked on in silence. It is also illegal for the mayor to campaign for ballot measures on city property.

In his speech, Newsom labeled as the "heroes" of this year's budget the unions that have agreed to unpaid days off, including the Laborer's Union, the Deputy Sheriff's Association, Firefighters Local 798, and the Municipal Executives Association. Conversely, he vowed to remember that the police, nurses, and lawyers unions wouldn't amend the contracts Newsom negotiated last summer.

Sounding more like a gubernatorial candidate intent on winning over Orange County voters than the leader of the most progressive city in the nation, Newsom said, "We are living within our means and being fiscally prudent, without out-of-control borrowing and without tax increases. But we still have a $338 million shortfall."

But there has been widespread criticism of the mayor's plan as details emerge of its massive cuts to health and human services, while increasing the city's budget for street repaving, pothole repair, and police academies.

"It's the least democratic, least transparent budget process in many years, in terms of lack of information from the Mayor's Office to the city departments and the community-based organizations that are affected," said Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth organizer Chelsea Boilard. "In the past, programs were given a heads-up. This year it continues to be a frantic scramble."

According to Boilard, city departments were still finding out the extent of the cuts even after Newsom made his presentation, including the news that the budget addbacks approved by the Board of Supervisors last year are not being continued in the 2008-09 budget.

"A nightmare," was how Debbi Lerman of the San Francisco Human Services Network described the budget.

"If we listen to mayor's presentation, everything is rosy, revenue-wise. It's just a spending problem. But from the community's perspective, it's shocking," Lerman said, citing $15.5 million in cuts to the Department of Public Health, $3.5 million in cuts to the Human Services Agency, and a 20 percent cut to domestic violence programs.

"And [the cuts] have been a constantly moving target," Lerman added. "We're mere weeks away from the implementation of this budget, but no one knows which clients, programs, or services will be lost, though we are sure that there will be a lot of layoffs in our sector. The mayor should not balance his budget on the backs of the poor."

She believes the city needs to look at some non-essential services during a bad budget year and see what can be deferred to the future — and find ways to increase its revenue.

"The mayor is not a stone. He does get it to some degree. But it's unfortunate that he's not chosen to put forth revenue measures at this point," Lerman said.

Robert Haaland of Service Employees International Union Local 1021 agrees that the city has a revenue problem.