Tear up the budget

Pub date June 23, 2009
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Here are a few of the new taxes in Mayor Newsom’s no-new-taxes budget.

The cost of sending your kid to a city day camp will jump 35 percent. The cost of after-school latchkey programs will go up 112 percent. It will cost a dollar more to swim in a public pool. Annual swim passes for seniors and people with economic needs will rise by $25. And that’s on top of the Muni fare hike. Fines, fees and licenses will go up a staggering 41 percent.

In other words, poor people who use city services will see their taxes — that is, the cost of using city services — go up significantly. But rich people, big business, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., property owners — they won’t pay anything more at all. (Of course, if you own a small tatoo parlor, your city fees will go up 1,200 percent.)

This is one of the essential lies of the Newsom budget. It’s not revenue-neutral at all; it just raises taxes on the poor.

It’s also not a budget that shares the economic pain fairly.

The Firefighters union is screaming that the supervisors might want to cut a little bit from that bloated agency, but their protests defy reality. In fact, the budget analyst has identified more than $6 million in relatively painless cuts to the Fire Department — and if the supervisors went along with those recommendations, the department would still be getting more than $1 million in increased funding. It’s hard to argue for cutting firefighting in a city built of wood that’s had a bad history with fires. But the reality is that San Francisco’s fire-suppression system was designed long before the days of fire codes, smoke detectors, and sprinklers, and there just aren’t as many fires these days. The budget analyst suggests — as the controller did in 2004 — that the city could temporarily close a few fire stations without any appreciable reduction in public safety.

Firefighters in San Francisco get pay and benefit parity with the cops — and the cops have gotten nice raises recently, in part because it’s been hard to recruit people to work for the San Francisco Police Department. On the other hand, there are 5,000 people on the waiting list to apply for a job as a San Francisco firefighter.

The Police Department’s due for a budget increase, too — of more than $15 million. The budget analyst suggests that $4 million of that could be cut without damaging law enforcement.

Then there’s the Mayor’s Office, where a staff of five people handle public relations for Newsom, at a cost to the public of $653,571. When Art Agnos was mayor in the late 1980s, he managed to get by with just one press secretary. The population of the city hasn’t changed; the number of reporters at City Hall has decreased. Why does Newsom need five times as many people in his communications office? And how much of that public money is actually being used to promote the mayor’s campaign for governor?

Those are just some of the revelations from the reports of the budget analyst and the hearings so far. And they add up to a budget situation that’s very different from anything the city has seen in years.

The Board of Supervisors typically tinkers with the mayor’s budget, changing a million here and a million there. This time the mayor has in effect declared war on the supervisors, appearing with the firefighters at rallies and denouncing board members (at one point Newsom told reporters, "Thank god we have a mayor.") The outcome of the current budget hearings will be a test for the progressive majority on the board, and particularly for president David Chiu. The board members have to be willing to essentially tear up the mayor’s budget, restructure the priorities, replace the fee increases with fair new taxes (even if it means including in the budget projections for tax measures to go on the November ballot), and eliminate the embarrassing waste. *