July 17, 2002

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opinion
by the fair budget coalition

 

Fixing S.F.'s budget

IT'S IMPOSSIBLE NOT to notice the near-third world conditions that have existed for years among San Francisco's poorest residents. The current economic crisis has only worsened these conditions. An overworked, underfunded network of city and state agencies, hospitals, health care providers, and nonprofit community-based organizations is barely hanging on. Year after year this network struggles with too few resources to create decent affordable housing, living-wage jobs, quality public schools, job-training opportunities, child care, after-school programs, and drug and mental health treatment.

Managing publicly funded services is not like running a private business – in hard times, you can't downsize: the demand for services just increases. Yet this year, the city budget includes the largest cuts to health, education, and human services in years.

While city officials have stated that they were able to avoid cuts to most services by exploring every possible revenue option, that simply isn't true. Mayor Willie Brown released his budget with fewer cuts than expected, but it still dealt a serious blow to safety-net programs – and without any new proposals for increased revenue.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors deliberated this budget for months in several committees. On the positive side, the supervisors were able to cut more than $9 million in fat and add those funds to needed services. They made a sound policy decision to prioritize programs for poor and disenfranchised communities and were able to preserve many city services.

Nonetheless, cuts in services such as hotel vouchers and programs for homeless families will hurt our most vulnerable residents. The failure to give the Children's Fund the money that was legally mandated in the City Charter prevents agencies from the Bayview to the Excelsior from helping the thousands of families coming to their doors.

Of particular concern to the Fair Budget Coalition is the lack of attention that was given to revenue options. Last year San Francisco's richest corporations sued the city for overtaxing them, forcing the city to return $100 million and accept an annual revenue loss of $25 million. We now need to restructure business taxes to get that money back. We must also undo the New Jobs Tax Credit, which took $25 million from the city's coffers but, according to the city's budget experts, failed to accomplish its goal of creating jobs.

Members of the Fair Budget Coalition also presented elected officials with many ideas about potential budget cuts: ending ineffective programs, curbing excessive overtime costs, scrutinizing sweetheart contracts, eliminating patronage positions, cutting salary increases for high-paid administrators, reducing top-heavy department administrations, and ending the purchase of costly, unnecessary equipment.

Neither the mayor nor the supervisors went far enough in cutting unnecessary costs or proposing much-needed new taxes and fees. Instead, high-level administrators got huge pay raises, and the richest San Franciscans were not asked to pay an extra dime. Furthermore, rather than address structural problems in the budget, our elected officials opted to save $100 million through short-sighted one-time fixes that will just come back to haunt the city next year.

The Board of Supervisors' Budget Committee is recommending a budget that will ensure an underfunded public health system. A budget that will hurt children by eliminating transportation and emergency hotel vouchers for homeless families and will do nothing to help the thousands of families on child care waiting lists. A budget that will deny paid time off for health care workers, cut jobs for laundry workers at San Francisco General Hospital, and force nonprofits throughout the city to cut services.

This year's budget was balanced on the back of the future and on the backs of the most-needy San Franciscans. Why not target the city's billionaires instead?

It is not too late to act. The supervisors are still scurrying to find revenue options that could save vital city services. They must act quickly and aggressively. The Fair Budget Coalition is made up of the Human Services Network, the Senior Action Network, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, the People's Budget Collaborative, and dozens of other organizations. For more information call (510) 285-1055.