DPH Budget Cuts: The saga continues

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By Rebecca Bowe

The ongoing saga of budget cuts affecting a majority of people of color and women in the city’s Department of Public Health took yet another twist this afternoon.

For now, the Budget & Finance Committee has voted to restore the cuts, but it won’t be heard by the full Board of Supervisors until next Tuesday, when eight votes will still be needed to pass the $8 million supplemental appropriation. Meanwhile, in the wake of the city controller’s dramatic pronouncement yesterday that the Board wasn’t allowed to take anything out of the General Fund reserve, Sup. Chris Daly had to do some fancy footwork to come up with a new way to restore the cuts.

At a special meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee this afternoon, Supervisors voted to restore the cuts -- but since City Controller Ben Rosenfield said he was unable to certify a spending decision that would draw approximately $8 million from the General Fund reserve, Supervisors voted to dip into the $45 million that the Board placed on reserve across major city departments at the 11th hour of budget deliberations back in July. In the Department of Public Health, it represents about $11.9 million in salaries and benefits. Since drawing from this pot of money wouldn’t render the budget out of balance, the city controller can sign off on it as a legitimate move.

The idea to use the DPH reserve, instead of General Fund reserve dollars, was suggested by Sup. Chris Daly after City Controller Ben Rosenfield announced yesterday afternoon that he would not allow the Board to vote on a supplemental appropriation that spent General Fund reserve dollars because the city is projected to be in dire straits financially. “The previously appropriated spending no longer appears to be supportable,” Rosenfield told the Supervisors this afternoon. “The difference exceeds the value of the General Fund reserve.”

The city controller has never barred the Board from taking a vote on a supplemental appropriation due to a budget deficit. But Rosenfield said this afternoon that in the handful of instances when the controller has had to notify the city of a projected budgetary shortfall, this was the first time that a vote was pending on a supplemental appropriation.

What the controller’s projections do not take into account, however, is federal funding that will become available through AB 1383, state legislation that will funnel approximately $33 million in federal dollars into the city’s Department of Public Health. Depending on who you talk to, this money could become available as early as the end of January, or as late as May. (The fiscal year ends in June, so this would allow the money to be rolled back into the current budget.) “From what I’ve heard, [receiving the funding is] inevitable, it’s just a matter of when,” Sup. John Avalos noted.

Sup. Daly noted that given the strong likelihood that the AB 1383 money would be available for the current fiscal year -- and given DPH’s strong financial track record in years past -- that there should be enough to cover the supplemental appropriation out of the departmental reserve at the end of the day. In short, he said, it was the best choice for averting a blow to people’s lives and damage to communities. “It’s just the right thing to do,” Daly said. “This layoff will cause serious harm. To say that it might not happen, so we should do harm now, that’s guaranteeing harm.” Before the amendment was voted on, Sup. Daly handed sponsorship of it over to Sup. Avalos.

While Sups. Avalos and Ross Mirkarimi voted in favor, Sup. Carmen Chu dissented, saying that she didn’t think it made sense financially. “There simply is not a reserve of free money available,” she said. “We don’t know the details” about what programs could be affected. DPH Chief Financial Officer Greg Sass noted that as of now, the $11.9 million on reserve is already spoken for, in people’s salaries and benefits.

Following the meeting, Robert Haaland of SEIU Local 1021 told union members that they’d met with Sup. Sophie Maxwell, but she hadn’t committed one way or another to next week’s vote. Meanwhile, the issue is reportedly receiving attention from the CA Democratic Party Women’s Caucus and Disability Caucus, civil-rights attorney Eva Patterson, and a number of other heavy-hitters.

Oh, and SEIU members just might start passing out fliers outside of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s restaurants in the coming week.