Another bloody budget

Newsom's latest budget slashes social services and would leave a long legacy of deficits

Mayor Gavin Newsom released his city budget proposal June 1, downplaying its most adverse impacts

In the days since June 1, when Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposal for San Francisco's $6.48 billion budget for the next fiscal year, public sector employees and community organizations have been poring over the hefty document to determine how their jobs, services, and programs survived cuts made to close a $483 million shortfall.

For police and firefighters, a key Newsom constituency, the news is good. There were no layoffs to San Francisco firefighters, and while members of the Police Officer's Association gave up $9.3 million in wage concessions under the lucrative contract Newsom gave them a few years ago, police officers will still receive a 4 percent wage increase on July 1.

For others, the release of the mayor's budget signified a tough fight looming before the Board of Supervisors, one with high stakes. Cuts to homeless services, mental health care, youth programs, and housing assistance, along with privatization proposals, have raised widespread concern among labor and liberal advocacy organizations. Public input on the budget will continue at the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee until July 15, when the amended document is considered by the full board.

At a June 1 announcement ceremony, Newsom asserted that the budget was balanced "without draconian cuts," saying, "We were able to avoid the kind of cataclysmic devastation that some had argued was inevitable in this budget."

Nearly a week later, Board President David Chiu told the Guardian that sort of cataclysm wouldn't be staved off for long if the city continues on the course of repeatedly making deep budget cuts without proposing any significant new sources of revenue.

"Now that the smoke has cleared, it is clear that the mayor's proposed budget is perfect for a mayor who is only going to be around for the short term, but it does not address the long-term fiscal crisis that our city is in," Chiu said. "Next year, we're looking at over a $700 million budget deficit. The year after that, we're looking at almost an $800 million budget deficit. The budget proposal that Newsom put out balances the ... deficit on many one-time tricks and assumptions of uncertain revenue."

Meanwhile, advocates said even the cuts proposed this time would bring serious consequences, especially with unemployment on the rise, state programs being cut in Sacramento, and families feeling the pinch more than ever.

"Poor and working class families, and families of color in San Francisco, are facing kind of an assault on funding and on safety net services on multiple levels," said Chelsea Boilard, family policy and communications associate for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. "I think a lot of it is that families are concerned about their ability to stay in the city and raise their kids here."



During the budget announcement, Newsom emphasized the positive. He found $12 million in new revenue simply by closing a loophole that had allowed Internet-based companies to avoid paying that amount in hotel taxes. He said 350 currently occupied positions would be cut, but noted that it was less than a cap of 425 that public sector unions had agreed to. Cuts were inevitable since the ailing economy inflicted the city's General Fund with significant losses, particularly from business and property tax revenues.

Nonetheless, Newsom's budget is already coming under fire from progressive leaders. For one, there are no new revenue-generating measures in the form of general taxes, which could have averted the worst blows to critical safety-net services and might help remedy the city's economic woes in the long-term.

"There are no new taxes in this budget," Newsom declared. "I know some folks just prefer tax increases. I don't."