What's wrong with San Francisco?

The only new revenue in the budget comes from fee increases on Muni, public parks, after-school programs, and the like
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EDITORIAL In the end, Mayor Gavin Newsom got his way. The San Francisco supervisors made some significant changes to the budget and saved some $40 million worth of programs that the mayor wanted to cut or privatize, but the Newsom for governor ads will still be able to proclaim that the mayor solved his city's budget problem without raising taxes or cutting police and firefighters.

Instead, this fall some 1,500 city employees are slated to be laid off, 400 of them in the Department of Public Health. Many recreation directors will get pink slips. Human services will lose at least 100 people. Nonprofit service providers will see much of their city funding disappear. The money to pay for public financing of the upcoming supervisorial and mayoral races is gone. Newsom's pet (and expensive) 311 service will still be open 24 hours a day (with a lot of the money coming from Muni).

Not one of the city's hugely redundant fire stations will close, even for a few days at a time. The bloated police budget will see no significant cuts, and the cops and firefighters will still get raises. The mayor will continue to employ five people in his press office.

And the only new revenue in the budget comes from fee increases on Muni, public parks, after-school programs, street fairs, restaurants, and the like.

Sup. John Avalos, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, told us this was the best deal the supervisors could get, and it's true that the board forced Newsom to add back a lot of money he wanted to cut. But the committee stopped far short of doing what it should have done — fundamentally changing the priorities of the Newsom budget.

Campos told us that he had "mixed feelings" about the deal and expressed concern about the board's ability to shape midyear cuts and the lack of commitment from Newsom to support support placing revenue measures on the November ballot. Mirkarimi said he was happy with the dollar amounts of the add-backs but proposed holding in reserve some funding for the mayor's pet projects — a tool for ensuring that Newsom consults with supervisors on the midyear cuts as promised — but Avalos opposed the idea.

Avalos said he's relying on Newsom's commitment to him: "The mayor has given me the assurance that he will not make unilateral decisions." But Newsom has a history of breaking such promises.

And the supervisors have not included any new tax revenue in the budget projections. Which puts San Francisco far behind Oakland.

The Oakland City Council has plenty of problems, and the mayor of Oakland, Ron Dellums, has been missing in action on a lot of the city's problems lately. But when the mayor and the council had to address the budget problems, they came up with a solution that includes at least $6 million in new taxes. While that sounds like a small number, it's almost 10 percent of Oakland's budget shortfall. And the new taxes, which will need voter approval in a special July 21 election, are included as part of the budget plan for fiscal 2009-10.

Two of the new taxes — a levy on pot clubs (which the clubs themselves strongly support) and a loophole-closing measure that forces big businesses to pay their fair share of real estate transfer taxes — require only a simple majority vote to take effect. The reason: the council voted unanimously to declare a fiscal emergency and put the measures on the ballot. That allowed the city to avoid the state law that requires a two-thirds vote on most new taxes.

Measures C, D, F, and H make up a generally progressive package that has the support of Council Members Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan and Rep. Barbara Lee. We're happy to endorse all four.

Measure C is a 3 percent increase in the city's hotel tax, which would rise from 11 percent to 14 percent.

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