Editor's Notes

San Francisco is a rich city; we can afford public health and public parks and public transportation


So the mayor of San Francisco says he doesn't read the newspapers, which may be why he expressed so much surprise at the size of next year's budget deficit. The rest of us — the ones who, you know, bother to check out publications that hire reporters to inform us about current events — pretty much knew that the recession wasn't over, that city tax revenues were going to be below projections, and that next year would be a repeat of this year.

He also seems almost cavalier about it, telling reporters that this isn't a crisis, that he simply has to work hard and come up with a solution. And if the past is any indication, his solution will be to cut Muni, public health, social services, and recreation and parks, lay off thousands more frontline workers (damaging the local economy even further), and complain that we aren't getting more help from Sacramento and Washington.

It's as if I'm reading Cat's Cradle again: round and round and round we spin, with feet of lead and wings of tin. Wasn't Einstein the one who said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the result will be different?

The budget Newsom presented to the board in June, and the somewhat different one the board approved in July, didn't solve the city's budget crisis. Firing all the remaining recreation directors and laying off more health care workers and shutting down bus lines (while raising fares) and depending on condo-conversion fees — a one-time source of income — to prop us up won't work either.

I remember listening to John Garamendi, then lieutenant governor, talking outside a University of California Board of Regents meeting at the Mission Bay campus a few months ago. He was complaining about budget cuts and insisting he wouldn't vote to eliminate programs and raise fees. "How," I asked him, "do you recommend we balance the budget?" His answer: "California is a rich state and can afford public education."

That's a little shy of suggesting a hike in the income tax rate for the very wealthy or an oil-severance tax, but it was the right point. Folks: San Francisco is a rich city. By millennial standards, it's one of the richest cities ever, in one of the richest civilizations ever. We can afford public health and public parks and public transportation.

It costs money to run a city like San Francisco. Lots of money. The problems we face are immense — from moving more than 1 million people a day around town without making the streets impassible and contributing to global warming, to saving the lives of people who have been lost, to the state and federal safety nets, to preventing teenagers from shooting each other to death with automatic weapons, and the list goes on. And if you get rid of the patronage jobs and the embarrassing waste and then explain to people what we have to pay for and who's going to be paying most of the tab — and you make sure that the ones paying the most can most afford it — then I think you can get even tax-weary voters behind you.

But you can't solve a half-billion dollar budget problem — on top of last year's half-billion dollar budget problem — without a clear vision of what this city needs, and how to pay for it. And that's what's missing in the mayor's office.

Instead, Newsom blames the press for screwing up his campaign for governor and says there's nothing really to worry about; the budget will get fixed, somehow, one of these days, and nobody who matters will have to suffer that much.

Round and round and round we spin. I think I'm going to be sick.

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