Newsom's backwards budget

The mayor can't blame Schwarzenegger for his mess
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EDITORIAL The San Francisco city employee union that represents front-line workers has come up with a remarkable document. It's an analysis by the city controller, requested through the office of Sup. Aaron Peskin, that shows how many jobs have been added or cut in the past 10 years, broken down by bargaining group.

Since almost all San Francisco employees, including managers, are unionized, and different categories of workers have different unions, the analysis paints a clear picture of where hiring has taken place and where job cuts have hit hardest. It is, in many ways, a snapshot of the budget priorities of Mayor Gavin Newsom. And as Sarah Phelan reported this week on sfbg.com, here's what it shows:

As direct public services have been hacked up and eliminated, as homeless shelters close and nursing services for elderly shut-ins vanish, the city has hired a whole lot of new high-paid managers.

In fact, in the past decade, the city has added 334 high-level jobs, paying an average of $140,000 a year. That's a 45 percent jump. Under Newsom's administration, during tough budget times, 166 new managers have been added. In this year's budget alone, Newsom is calling for 52 new managers.

Professional and technical jobs increased by 781 positions, a 23 percent rise.

Front-line jobs, on the other hand, have grown by less than 10 percent.

Of course, the city needs managers and technical staff. Some of the new positions are entirely legitimate and justified. But these high-level jobs are also where political cronies are placed, and management jobs in this city have always had a political patronage element. And when the budget is deeply in the red, it doesn't make sense to lay off the people who are doing the day-to-day work and hire more people to supervise a reduced staff.

Let's look at the numbers. The total tab for new managers amounts to about $46 million a year. The increase — just the increase — in management positions in this year's budget would total $7.8 million. That would save a lot of services: Newsom shut down Buster's Place, the city's only 24-hour drop-in center for the homeless, to save $300,000. Keeping public health nurses to serve sick seniors would cost only a few hundred thousand more.

The daily newspapers have ignored this story so far, but it's the blockbuster of the budget season. It shows where the mayor puts his priorities, what he really cares about. He's got exotic positions like a director of sustainability, in his own office — which is a wonderful idea, but with a budget deficit of more than $300 million, is it really worth $160,000 a year? (Don't we already have a Department of the Environment?) He's got people out at the airport who collect six-figure salaries and do very little visible work. And yet he can't manage to keep basic services for the needy — services that can make the difference between life and death on the streets — from vanishing in a whirlpool of red ink.

Peskin has made some noise about cutting high-end jobs instead of rank-and-file positions, but with the budget coming to a head soon, that ought to be one of the top priorities. In fact, the board's Budget Committee ought to issue a challenge to the mayor: before another homeless program is cut, before another public health service is eliminated, before another city agency that does on-the-ground work to help low-income people is gutted, Newsom should demonstrate, job by job, why so many $140,000-a-year positions are critical to the city.

The other glaring problem with the budget is that it includes no plans for increased revenue.

Newsom is happy to blame Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for terminating aid to cities, but let's face it: with Republicans in Sacramento and Washington DC, San Francisco is going to have to solve most of its problems on its own.