Editor’s Notes

Pub date January 13, 2009
WriterTim Redmond

› tredmond@sfbg.com

I guess Mayor Gavin Newsom really wants to cut the budget. He wants to force city employees (and not just the cops) to accept pay cuts. He wants to lay people off and eliminate services. He wants to solve the budget crisis entirely on his terms — and honestly, it baffles me.

Anyone who runs a public or private enterprise has to make tough decisions and tough choices in tough times. I know that. I’ve had to cut spending and lay people off — and I can tell you, it sucked. It didn’t make me feel like a strong leader or a hard-nosed manager, it just made me sad.

In politics, I guess, there’s some advantage to looking like you can stand up to organized labor and the left. Maybe Newsom thinks he can run for governor as the mayor who refused to raise taxes during a budget crisis. Maybe he, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, thinks taxes are for girlie men.

But does he really want to preside over the decline of his own signature health care plan? Does he want to be mayor of a city that recovers more slowly from the recession? Does he want to be the environmental leader who cut public transportation funding?

He doesn’t have to do that. There’s another alternative. He can work with the supervisors — and labor, and business, and community activists — and look at ways to bring in some more money. It shouldn’t be that hard a sell, really. The budget gap is huge — Aaron Peskin, who served on the Board of Supervisors for eight years, said before he left office that he’s having a hard time even getting his mind around the monstrosity of the necessary cuts. I’ve been watching local politics for 25 years, and I’ve having a hard time too. We could be looking at eliminating half the discretionary spending in the general fund.

Do people who live and work in this city (including business owners) want to see public health cut by 25 percent? Do they want to see libraries closed, and neighborhood fire stations eliminated, and police stations shut down, and recreation programs that keep kids off the streets eliminated, and the Small Business Assistance Center defunded, and more mentally ill people wandering the streets, and longer waits for more crowded Muni buses? Is this the city we all want to live in?

Or are the wealthier residents and bigger businesses willing to pay just a little bit more each year to keep basic services in place?

If Mayor Newsom, who is still quite popular in town, asked that question, in that fashion, and presented budget cuts that everyone knows are necessary and better oversight and good government programs to let us all know that the money isn’t being wasted, and then promoted a couple of fair and progressive new revenue measures in a June special election, the worst of the bloodbath could be avoided.

I can’t understand why he wants this to be so hard.