So what are Newsom's budget plans?

The mayor refuses to support any sort of new revenue measures this spring

EDITORIAL In Washington, Rep. Nancy Pelosi — who has never been known as a radical leftist — is proposing that Congress repeal the Bush tax cuts, now, two years before they expire. That would bring $226 billion into the federal till, enough to fund a good part of the stimulus package.

In Sacramento, Democrats are moving toward a special election this spring to allow the voters to approve a tax increase — a move that would prevent disastrous service cuts in this horrible economic climate. Even the Republicans in the state Legislature — about as intransigent a group of people as you're going to find in public service in America — are actually discussing the possibility that they might accept a tax increase as part of a budget deal.

Political writer David Sirota, blogging on Open Left, argues that a tectonic shift is taking place, that budget fights are "tilting the terms of debate away from Reaganism and toward progressive policy goals."

But not in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom refuses to support any sort of new revenue measures this spring. In fact, while the supervisors, labor, and others are working to try to figure out a solution to the budget crisis, Newsom has been out of town, campaigning for governor or galavanting off to Paris and Davos.

We can't quite figure out what the mayor plans to do about a budget deficit that could reach $500 million. So far we know he thinks the city can get some money by privatizing cab medallions (a dumb idea). We also hear he's talking about vastly increasing the number of condo conversion permits (an even worse idea that will lead to massive evictions and the end of rent control). Beyond that, he hasn't offered anything.

We recognize the problems with a spring special election. Passing a tax measure would require a two-thirds majority, a tough threshold under the best of circumstances. The state may call its own special election in May, preempting the city's chances. The deadlines are tight, and city officials would need to move very quickly to come up with a workable plan in time.

But there are also serious problems with abandoning the idea, or even waiting until November. We're talking cataclysmic budget cuts here — maybe as many as 1,500 layoffs, massive cutbacks in public health, parks and recreation centers closed, fire stations shut down, police cut back, Muni backsliding into dysfunction, programs for the homeless and needy vanishing as more and more desperate people fill the streets ... it won't be pretty.

We've consistently argued that a June special election to raise new tax money is a reasonable option, and the supervisors need to keep it on the table. That means voting on several technical issues Jan. 27 and then moving at full speed to draft the ballot proposals. If circumstances change, the city can always back off and cancel the election.

But the mayor needs to come back to town and start getting engaged with this problem. Before he simply dismisses the June election, he needs to tell us his plan. What alternatives is he offering? What is he proposing to cut? What jobs, what services, will be eliminated?

The same goes for downtown, small business leaders, and the supervisors who oppose tax increases. Tell us — now, in public — what you propose to do about this once-in-a-lifetime crisis. The progressives are at least putting forward plans, imperfect as they may be. Anyone who refuses to support those plans should be required to offer something else.

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