Public employees step up; when will Newsom and downtown?

Newsom's political ambitions seem to be trumping the need for him to show fiscal leadership in San Francisco.

With news that Muni union leaders are backing salary givebacks to help close San Francisco's $483 million budget deficit, all city employees are now making sacrifices to preserve city services that we all rely on. But as we eagerly await the release of the mayor's budget on June 1 – in which some city departments have been asked to make cuts of up to 30 percent – the question is whether Mayor Gavin Newsom will find the courage to ask other San Francisco entities to help.

For example, will he support the 2 percent increase in the hotel tax that labor is pushing (and which polls show would probably pass muster with voters if Newsom backed it), a real estate transfer tax that would hit the comfortably rich, or a downtown transit assessment district that would make corporations finally help pay for the transit services their employees rely on?

So far, it's doesn't look like it (and his Communications Office won't respond to the question). Instead, Newsom has cynically engaged in deceptive blame games that scapegoat public employees for a problem he created (for example, by approving bloated police and fire contracts to win political support and then blocking efforts to seek new revenue sources), while still pushing gimmicky new spending programs designed to burnish his political image as he runs for state office.

This could be Newsom's last chance to finally show some leadership, and now is the time when it's needed most. After offering cuts-only city budgets his entire tenure in office, most city departments are unable to go any further without sacrificing needed services.

The situation has become dire, as workers said Wednesday during a budget rally outside City Hall. Guardian news intern Kaitlyn Paris was there covering the action and offers this report:

Community groups from around San Francisco rallied in front of City Hall on Wednesday to protest the drastic reductions that health and human services face in the Governor's proposed state budget and Mayor Newsom's impending city budget.

A graveyard of tombstones representing each of the organizations stuck out of the sand next to the grassy square where participants gathered. Identifiable by their maroon sweatshirts, the largest faction present was the Community Housing Partnership. The proposed budget would cut over $100,000 from the agency and its programs that provide help with employment, substance abuse, and habitation development.

“Supervisors need to be constantly reminded of the merits of these services,” CHP employee Gabriel Haywood told us.

The partnership runs a jobs retention program that Haywood says has exceeded its city-mandated job retention rate by 25 percent, keeping 75 percent of the people it serves employed for longer than three months. Still, Cameron McHenry told the Guardian the city thinks the groups services are duplicative. [Editor's Note: information in this paragraph has been corrected since his article was posted].

The city's OneStop employment service is suited to workers displaced by the recession, not the multiple-burdened clients helped by CHP, said McHenry: “We can't take a 30 percent cut and still do the work we do.”

After speakers from various groups addressed the crowd from a flatbed truck, District 5 Sup. Ross Mirkarimi took to the stage to demand alternative ways of generating revenue. The progressive revenue tactics championed mainly involved increased hotel tax to reduce the budget burden felt by community service groups. Mirkarimi and members of the crowd also criticized the city for its continued funding of Sharp golf course in Pacifica.

“We're trying to force the Mayor to have a fair budget,” Coalition on Homelessness Director Jennifer Fredenbach told us. “We believe he can do it through alternative revenue like the hotel tax, a more progressive tax base, and a property transfer tax on high end real estate. It has real consequences for poor San Franciscans, not only in quality of life, but in the ability to live.”


Newsom Press Secretary Tony Winnicker just responded with the following comment: "Mayor Newsom will submit a balanced budget on Tuesday that closes the projected budget deficit without new general tax increases and protects public safety and the social safety net. Our public employee unions have stepped up tremendously to be active partners in balancing the budget while protecting thousands of jobs and vital city services, in contrast to what we're seeing at the state level. At a time when families and businesses across the City are cutting back and when unemployment remains unacceptably high, City employees and City government are doing their part to balance the budget and prevent thousands of layoffs and deep cuts to public safety, public health and services for children, youth and families. Mayor Newsom supports closing the online hotel tax loophole. "

Posted by steven on May. 28, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

I want to know if that includes his staffers? But we know how he will spin this on his campaign trail.
Thank you to all the city workers for taking on a part of the brunt. That is very courageous of you?

Posted by Jerry Jarvis on May. 28, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

I don't see how you can say that, "all city employees are now making sacrifices to preserve city services" when all that the grossly overpaid the cops and firemen did was agree to forego raises. When those groups, which should be the main ones targeted for cutbacks, agree to some layoffs and salary reductions, then this claim would be true.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on May. 30, 2010 @ 10:10 am

We may and should increase taxes selectively but we should also stop the egregious waste of material resources and stem inefficiencies in the City. This alone will save millions and not for the short-term but longer. There is definitely an environmental component to all this waste as well.

Posted by Guest Denise on May. 30, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

When taxpayers see that the average wages and benefits of a City employee is $125,000 a year (09-10 budget, 10-11 budget ?) and the same for an SF resident is $75,000, I hope some could understand why most don't embrace tax increases...

And why doesn't anyone ever call out police and fire for not increasing their employee pension contributions?? Police and fire pension costs will be north of $100,000,000 in 2010-11 but police and fire are still paying in 7.5% of wages when the city charter (Prop H 2002) requires them to increase their contributions...

Posted by cjroses on May. 31, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

We tax payers have been paying for the terrible priorities and constant stupidity of progressives for years. That the progressives have to live with a budget like the rest of us must be a shock to the system of self righteous entitlement. Running out of other peoples money to spend must suck.

Posted by glen matlock on Jun. 01, 2010 @ 10:32 pm

What about cutting services and programs that do nothing but suck up tax dollars? There's no accountability, monitoring, or follow up at City Hall. There's still room for more cuts. City Hall needs to step up to the plate and do more cuts. We have a larger City budget than many States. Time to end the gravy train. People will have to learn how to expect less from their government and look for other ways to get things done.

Posted by Homeless in SF on Jun. 05, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

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