Newsom's war on the public sector

Newsom's "stimulus" is targeted solely at the private sector, with no requirement that the companies slated to get tax breaks and fee reductions actually perform



By Calvin Welch

OPINION With the Feb. 10 release of the Controller's Office economic analysis of Mayor Gavin Newsom's proposed tax cuts to businesses, combined with its December 2009 analysis of the Newsom administration's proposed fee cuts to market-rate condo developers, we now have a clear and objective measurement of this administration's response to the biggest economic collapse in San Francisco since the Great Depression: the mayor hopes to create 4,400 jobs (of the 39,000 jobs lost in San Francisco since the start of the downturn) and 40 to 50 new market-rate condos over the next two years at the cost of $72 million in lost tax revenues.

The plan includes no affordable housing — zero, zip, nada — below-market rate housing for moderate-income San Franciscans. Instead, the developer fees that fund parks, transit, and other critical neighborhood infrastructure projects promised for the Market Street, Octavia Street, and eastern neighborhoods plan areas will be postponed indefinitely.

Those impacts don't include the loss of public sector jobs and services. The report rather coyly notes that "the potential impacts of the city revenue decline on public services, and indirectly on the economy, is not considered because the city could adjust to that impact in many ways." The analysis warns: "However, if the stimulus does not directly incentivize job creation, it may not overcome the loss of public sector employment that the subsidy's revenue would pay for."

That last point that needs some attention.

Newsom's "stimulus" is targeted solely at the private sector, with no requirement that the companies slated to get tax breaks and fee reductions actually perform — either through job growth or housing development. It cuts public sector employment and public sector-led infrastructure development — affordable housing, transit lines, parks and playgrounds — when it's clear that both public employment and infrastructure development would be a direct stimulus to the local economy.

Quick, name the biggest employer in San Francisco. How about the second biggest — or fourth, sixth, or seventh? Well, they're all in the public sector: the City and County of San Francisco, the University of California, San Francisco, the State of California, the San Francisco Unified School District, and the U.S. Postal Service top the list. As of 2008, some 85,000 jobs in San Francisco — 15 percent of all jobs in the city — were in the public sector. More than half were in education, and the bulk of the rest were in health and human services.

The Newsom administration's war, and it is a war, on the public sector is economic suicide. We should look at stimulus as saving as many public sector jobs — especially in education and health and human services — as we can and finance as much local infrastructure development as we can afford. That's real economic stimulus. What Newsom is proposing is the same old, inside-the-box, tried and failed trickle-down that got us in this ditch in the first place.

Calvin Welch has spent the last four decades working for sane economic development policies in San Francisco.