The wheels come off - Page 2

Chiu leads efforts to build a budget consensus in Newsom's absence

But from our point of view, it's hard to ask employees to give back $90 million in negotiated benefits if they are going to be laid off in three months anyway."

Falk, who represents almost 2,000 local businesses, wrote that "The business community recognizes that a $500 million budget shortfall can only be bridged through a combination of reductions in the size of city government, program consolidations, work-rule reforms, and new fees and revenues. However, any solution must be the product of discussions with all affected parties at the table. To date, these meetings have not happened."

Chiu replied to that letter by inviting key business and labor groups to his Feb. 8 City Hall roundtable. Attendees report that a productive dialogue ensued, and two days later, when the board overturned Newsom's veto of its special election legislation, the impacts of that first roundtable were palpable.

"I respect the mayor's perspective, but I believe that by getting on with the election, less damage will be done," Chiu explained as the supervisors pushed ahead with their plans to hold a special election this summer.

Elsbernd opposed the election but expressed frustration with the current situation: "The city is facing a multi-year problem. People are missing the big picture here. I don't want to be part of brokering a deal that is simply going to be a Band-Aid. Let's fix the problems now. "

"You could tell the impact of Sean having sat in on the discussions," Dufty observed. "Instead of 'Get over it, this is the way it's going to be,' he understands that we have to work together."

Falk told the Guardian that he found Chiu's roundtable "very productive."

"Everyone is feeling the pain of this recession," Falk continued. "People are losing jobs, businesses are losing sales, which results in layoffs, which results in a bigger strain on the city's services. It's all connected."

But he also noted that a special election on taxes requires a two-thirds vote. "That is a very difficult hurdle," Falk noted, "which is why we have to consider all the pieces, and as we do, the more we realize that June is out of the question."

Chiu continues to reach out to his critics, countering arguments that a special election will cost $3.5 million — and will be impossible to do by summer — with the observation that, done right, it could result in $50 million to $100 million in additional revenues and thereby spare some vital jobs and programs.

"We're facing a $565 million budget deficit, so if we can raise $100 million, we'll still have to cut $465 million. But it would save us from making the most painful cuts," Chiu said, noting he would support pushing the election to no later than Aug. 31 "if there were more firm agreement on elements of a plan that must include structural reforms, layoffs and wage concessions, and new revenues."

But Ballard said, "The mayor doesn't support more revenue without real reform," while promising that Newsom would shortly announce "new cost-saving reforms."

Unveiled the next morning, Feb. 11, during a mayor's breakfast with business leaders, Newsom's so-called local economic stimulus package included more spending on tourism marketing, targeted reduction in the payroll and property taxes, a $23 million interest-free revolving loan program for local businesses, and tax relief for Healthy San Francisco participants. The package, which must be approved by the board, would actually increase the city's budget deficit.

Chiu says he is open to discussing most ideas in Newsom's economic stimulus package, but that he's concerned about widening the deficit, telling us, "That is why this needs to be done in the context of an overall revenue package and not in a vacuum."