Beyond the budget spin

Pub date June 4, 2008
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION Local government is frozen. The mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors have been engaged in open warfare for months. This week, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that in order to balance San Francisco’s budget, city services and community-based organizations will have to undergo draconian cuts.

In a preemptive move against embarrassing protests, the mayor’s press office did not reveal the location of the annual budget presentation to the news media until late Friday afternoon. Even the supervisors, who will be debating and voting on the budget during the month of June, were left in the dark until then.

While the mayor didn’t blame city workers for the financial crisis, he did suggest that Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents the low-wage, frontline, service-providing city workers, should "help out."

Well, we have. SEIU members stepped up to "help out" in fiscal years 2003–04 and 2004–05 by agreeing to wage freezes and self-funding our pensions. All the recent midyear cuts were in public health agencies and among SEIU-represented nonprofits.

Most recently we stepped up by helping draft and vigorously campaigning to pass Proposition B, which freezes city workers wages for two years and tightens eligibility for retiree health care benefits in exchange for a modest increase in city pension benefits.

The mayor’s budget director repeatedly has said that this is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Talk about spin.

Moreover, in his June 2 budget presentation, the mayor made no mention of raising revenue as an answer to our fiscal problems. You could almost hear Gov. Schwarzenegger’s voice as Newsom presented a slash-services budget with a "no-new-taxes" slogan waiting in the wings for his next campaign.

Everyone knows it’s expensive to live in San Francisco. Paying city employees a wage that allows them to stay in the community they serve isn’t a budget "problem." It ought to be a basic part of what City Hall does and cares about. And if that means looking at bringing in new sources of money, we should have that conversation.

We believe there are various revenue sources that make more sense to explore than some of these service cuts, including a real estate transfer tax increase for high-level properties.

Fortunately, the mayor’s proposal is just a starting point. Soon we will be proposing specific alternatives.

Toward that end, the San Francisco Human Services Network and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth have organized a citywide forum on the mayor’s proposed budget cuts. SEIU 1021 is cosponsoring this event. The San Francisco budget and revenue town-hall meeting will be held June 9 from 2-4 p.m. in the San Francisco Main Library’s Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin (at Grove)

Don’t get angry. Get organized.

Robert Haaland

Robert Haaland is a longtime San Francisco activist who works for Local 1021.