The Democratic leadership in the state Assembly has a budget plan that challenges the entire approach Gov. Schwarzenegger is taking on the state budget. It's not perfect; it relies on borrowing (although it's borrowing against the revenues from a new oil severance tax). But it will, Speaker John Perez says, save more than 400,000 jobs. And it's way, way better than what the governor wants to do. "It's good," Assembly member Tom Ammiano, who has always been willing to challenge party leadership and take progressive stands. "It's something we can support."
Among other things, it would bring San Francisco another $40 million next year as part of a plan to end the raids on city and county treasuries.
So the Dems in the Assembly are trying to get cities, counties and school boards to endorse their plan. Sup. David Chiu did the honors in San Francisco, asking the supes to approve, on consent calendar, a fairly innocuous resolution endorsing the so-called "Jobs Budget." Nobody objected -- except Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who demanded that the measure be sent to committee for further review.
I don't get that; San Francisco's support won't determine the future of this budget, and it's not a huge deal -- but Elsbernd's a Democrat, he doesn't like what the governor is doing, and if this could help even a little bit with the forces pushing for an alternative, what's the big deal?
Well, I talked to Elsbernd about it (one of the things I respect about Elsbernd is that he never ducks questions; unlike some politicians I know, he always returns my calls, always responds, is willing to have an intelligent discussion and doesn't try to hide). His argument: "I'm not following the details of the state budget yet. I would love to hear a little more about it." His concern is with the borrowing; "I'm sure," he said (perhaps a bit sarcastically) "that President Chiu will be able to explain to me why this isn't just kicking the can down the road."
He went further: "If the mayor tried to balance the budget by borrowing money with general obligation bonds, you guys would blast him, right?" Well, not necessarily, I told him. Sometimes, governments ought to borrow money, to save and create jobs during an economic downtown. In fact, that's exactly what President Obama did, borrowing heavily and adding to the already massive federal debt with a stimulus plan that probably prevented the recession from becoming another depression.
I mean, didn't Sup. Elsbernd support the Obama stimulus package?
"Frankly, Tim," he said, "I've been too busy trying to do my job in San Francisco to be taking a stand on state and federal issues."
Okay, Sean -- it's a good line. But every elected official in every city in America was paying attention to the Obama economic plans. And SF supervisors have to be paying attention to the state budget. Counties are, in part, the local arms of the state; making sure there's money to do what the state tells us is part of the job.