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City in Search of a Plan

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The Mayor Has No Plan

The above numbers come from the Mayor’s Office’s presentation to the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee on February 4. By the time you read this, the projected deficit may have changed: The Mayor’s Office indicated in the last week of February that the projections for the current deficit had worsened, which means that the two deficit numbers above can only grow.

What’s the budget to you, or you to the budget, that you should weep for it?

How Many San Franciscans Will Lose Their Mental Health Services?

The budget cuts currently planned would eliminate mental health services for anywhere from 1,582 to 8,256 people. (See the charts to the right.)

The budget cuts currently planned would close down the drop-in of Tenderloin Health—a core health service for people living with any of the economic and sexual orientation oppressions that converge in the Tenderloin. They would close Caduceus Outreach Services—an absolutely vital treatment program for homeless people with more severe mental illnesses. They would close the Laguna Honda Adult Day Health Care. (See page 4.)

The budget cuts currently planned would increase rents for HIV-positive people in subsidized housing by a full third.

And this is but the beginning: By the end of February, the Department of Public Health had announce only 60% of its cuts for the coming year.

So the plan, as put forward by the Mayor’s Office at the beginning would leave citizens who depended on public health services ill or dead; it would leave citizens who worked for the City unemployed; and it would still leave the City with a $180 million deficit. This is compounded by some fundamental flaws in the Mayor’s projected savings: much in his cuts package is outside of his control, and requires voluntary give-backs from City employees, and changes in state law. Now, even supposing he can make this happen, and even supposing you come from the starve-the-beast school of thought, there’s a fundamental problem, here: By both state and municipal law, the City cannot have an unbalanced budget! Which means that the Mayor’s plan—beyond being morally odious—is illegal. That is, it is no plan at all.

Later in the month, the Mayor’s Office released a 14-page jumble of new and rehashed ideas branded as “San Francisco’s Local Economic Stimulus Package,” or, more officially, the Updated Strategy for Supporting San Francisco’s Economy (71 Kb PDF). The Strategy contains many business tax cuts and give-aways. It contains several new or expanded projects that would supposedly give local business a boost (“supposedly,” here, meaning, “given a unique theory that a local government has the same ability to stimulate an economy through Keynesian means as does a national government”). But it contains not one new source of revenue. New losses, new expenses, but no new income. When you’re trying to zero out a negative number, the appropriate operation is not subtraction.

Devastating cuts. Unbalanced budget. To finish off the trifecta, the Mayor decided to add denial, claiming, the week after the publication of the Strategy, that San Francisco was not in a crisis (despite his repeat comments to the contrary in December), and openly opposing all possible revenue measures that could be considered before the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Last month, the Street Sheet complained of a lack of leadership in City Hall, and called on the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors to become more actively engaged in solving our city’s budgetary woes in a way that would protect our communities. The Mayor’s response has been beyond disappointing: He has stood in the way of any budget resolution, and has pushed measures which can only make the illegal deficit and the inhuman cuts worse. We asked for leadership, and received an anti-leader. The community had forged forward without him.

The Coalition to Save Public Health—an alliance of over two dozen community organizations and two labor unions—has put together a three-part plan which can help address the budget crisis.

First: Efficiencies in City government. Too much money is still being spent on foolishness and waste in San Francisco. For months, the Coalition to Save Public Health and the Coalition on Homelessness have been working on a list of alternative cuts which would eliminate much of the fat from City government, freeing up funds for vital services. The Board of Supervisors has thus far proven timid about officially proposing a list of cuts that would run counter to the Mayor’s program, but even Board members who have opposed the only specific plan of cuts to appear in their chamber thus far have complained of continuing City wastefulness. A compromise must be found.

Second: The Coalition to Save Public Health has persuaded the Board of Supervisors to approve a special election for the summer, and has backed four different revenue measures which could together bring an estimated $150 million to the City. This does not fully fill the Mayor’s deficit, but it’s a start. Combined with creative revenue ideas from other sources, and alternative cuts, these can create a leaner local government that is fiscally responsible, and that continues to protect the city’s most vulnerable communities.

Third: Budget process reform. Hardly anyone likes the budget process as it stands, with Supervisors as politically far removed from one another as District 5’s Green Mirkarimi and District 7’s conservative Elsbernd calling for process reform. Specifics, however, of what the term “process reform” means have been hazy. While a balanced plan which supports conservative demands for smart fiscal accountability will probably be both necessary and desirable, the core of a budget process that addresses the horrific mismanagement that we’ve seen in fiscal years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 must be budgetary participatory democracy: The people who work on the front lines of City-funded services that protect all of us should not have to weigh their options between providing these services on the day of a hearing, or attending a hearing to save these services. Senior citizens, working families, and chronically ill people should not have to trek down to City Hall twice a year to save the services that save their lives. A sensible, democratic budget process will take time to develop, but the fundamental cry is this: If elected officials will not provide leadership in times of great crisis, then that leadership must be turned over to the people.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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