This one's ugly - Page 2

The worst budget season in years begins with more polarization than usual
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Budget Committee Chair John Avalos

Avalos took the podium just before heading into City Hall to lead the Budget and Finance Committee meeting and implored the hundreds of people gathered out front to make their voices heard. "Mayor Newsom, he told us, he said, 'We have a near-perfect budget.' Do we have a near-perfect budget?" Avalos asked, and then paused while the crowd cried out, "Nooo!!!!!"

During an interview discussing Newsom's budget priorities, Avalos twice made references to The Shock Doctrine, using the Naomi Klein book about how crises are used as opportunities to unilaterally implement corporatist policies. "We have a budget deficit that is real, but it's being used to do other things," Avalos said. "I look at it as a way to remake San Francisco. It's a Shock Doctrine effect."

He referred to the privatization of government services (an aspect of every Newsom budget), promoting condo conversions and gentrification, defunding nonprofits that provides social services (groups that often side with progressives), and helping corporations raid the public treasury (Newsom proposed beefing up the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development by a whopping 32 percent).

"It's things that the most conservative parts of San Francisco have wanted for years, and now they have the conditions to make it happen," Avalos said.

Much of that agenda involves slashing services to the homeless and other low-income San Francisco and de-funding the nonprofit network that provides services and jobs. "There's an effort to say nonprofit jobs aren't real jobs, but they are an important economic engine of the city," Avalos told us. Those cuts were decried during the June 10 budget rally.

"What people don't realize," Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 3 representative Natalie Naylor said, "is that everything that's being proposed to be cut from the city is creating no place for homeless people to go during the daytime. I don't think Newsom's constituents realize that we're going to see more homeless people on the street than ever before."

Pablo Rodriguez of the Coalition on Homelessness told the crowd that he was furious that the mayor would make such deep cuts to social services. "Stop riding on the back of the homeless, and the seniors and the children and all the community-based organizations," Rodriguez said. "Why make the poor people pay for the rich people's mistakes? The poor people didn't make the mistakes."

 

WHOM TO CUT?

The public safety unions were equally caustic in their arguments. An announcement for the Save Our Firehouses rally — which was heavily promoted by members of the Mayor's Office and Newsom's gubernatorial campaign team — claimed that "the Board of Supervisors voted to endanger the progress that we've made in public safety by laying off hundreds of police officers, closing up to 12 out of 42 fire stations and closing part of our jail."

Actually, all sides have said the interim budget probably won't lead to layoffs, station closures, or prisoner releases, but those could be a part of next year's budget.

Tensions temporarily cooled a bit in the days that have followed, but the two sides still seemed far apart on their priorities, mayoral spin aside. Asked about the impasse, Newsom spokesperson Nate Ballard told the Guardian, "The mayor has already included over 90 percent of the supervisors' priorities in the budget. But he's against the supervisors' efforts to gut public safety. He's willing to work with people who have reasonable ideas to balance the budget. Balancing the budget with draconian cuts to police and fire is unreasonable."

Campos disputed Ballard's figure and logic. "I don't know where that number comes from," Campos said. "A lot of the things we wanted to protect, the mayor cut anyway."

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