The problem isn’t that Gavin Newsom announced $71 million in mid-year cuts yesterday (or as his PR folks call it, $118 million in “mid-year solutions.”) Everyone knows we’re in a bad fiscal mess, tough decisions must be made, and the Mayor’s health cuts are less severe than first proposed. But you don’t address the Board of Supervisors after repeatedly snubbing them for years, talk about cuts without making specifics available until a press conference two hours later, deny the Board a chance to formally have a say (because the opportunity to “vet” these cuts were made by the Mayor’s Commissioners) – and then expect the legislative branch to want to work with you. Supervisor Aaron Peskin has proposed $8.5 million in mid-year cuts to address the crisis, and Chris Daly is moving forward on plans to de-fund the Community Justice Center – both moves that are likely to rattle the Mayor’s cage. But when the City has a shortfall that requires leadership, Newsom has brought this hostility upon himself – by flaunting our “checks and balances.”

When we learned at the start of yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that Newsom would make an appearance about mid-year budget cuts, the suspense and intrigue felt like we were awaiting a foreign dignitary – rather than the occupant of Room 200. Newsom had not formally come to visit the Board chambers since January 2007 – and that was just a “feel-good” swearing-in ceremony of the new Supervisors. His prior time was in January 2005, which was also for the inauguration of new Supervisors.

Since becoming Mayor, Newsom has broken with protocol when dealing with the Board. The City Charter requires the Mayor to present the City budget to the Supervisors each year – which under Willie Brown, Frank Jordan, Art Agnos and Dianne Feinstein meant the executive would actually come to the Board chambers and explain it to the legislative branch. Gavin Newsom, on the other hand, has fulfilled this requirement by having his aides distribute copies to the Supervisors’ office – while he sends out a press release.

In 2006, voters passed a measure making it City policy for the Mayor to have monthly policy discussions with the Supervisors. Newsom chose to respond by staging ridiculous Town Hall lectures. In 2007, an 8-3 Board majority voted to allocate $33 million in affordable housing funds. Rather than sign or veto the legislation, Newsom just refused to spend the money. Now, as the need for mid-year budget cuts became apparent, Newsom left Supervisors in the dark for weeks about any details – as he planned to impose them unilaterally.

As he addressed the Board yesterday, Newsom explained the City needs to make $118 million in what he called “mid-year solutions” to plug a deficit that, if untouched, would force the Controller to freeze assets. The Mayor spoke generally about the fiscal crisis, but gave few specifics about cuts – saying he would “make the list public” in an hour (at a press conference in Room 200.) Newsom said he scaled back the Health Department’s prior recommendations on cutting health care for the indigent, while Supervisor Bevan Dufty would “lead a work group” on HIV prevention dollars (where the Mayor’s still making $1.45 million in cuts.)

Board President Aaron Peskin noted the two branches of government are co-equal – and according to the City Charter, the Supervisors are supposed to get a chance to vote on the Mayor’s budget recommendations. Ross Mirkarimi complained that if the Mayor wants co-operation, he can’t always put the Supervisors “on the receiving end of an assembly line” by giving them a short window period to respond to budget cuts. Chris Daly asked why these cuts weren’t in legislative form – requesting the Mayor to submit his proposal as a “supplemental de-appropriation” so that at least the Board “can have our day.”

Newsom responded that he’d had “dialogue” with community-based organizations and elected officials that guided his decisions – but failed to mention that these talks left much to be desired. He added there had already been “public comment” at city Commissions (like the Health Commission), even though (a) not all Departments have an overseeing Commission, (b) the Mayor appoints virtually everyone on the Commissions that do, and (c) when we’re making budget priorities, it’s important to take a global approach between various Departments – a task that individual Commissions are not equipped to provide.

In other words, Newsom told the Supervisors they are irrelevant; and that the mid-year cuts will happen – whether they like it or not. Which is hard to swallow for the Board, only further provoking them to de-fund the Mayor’s pet projects – which they can do.

In fairness, the Mayor scaled back on Health Department cuts. Rather than just proceed with de-funding many non-profits that were saved last summer by the Board, there will be a $9 million hiring freeze on vacant positions – and delaying the implementation of some programs will net $2 million. The Department also has a $12 million increase in revenue, explained Director Mitch Katz, because hospitals are more full and they can charge more from insurance reimbursements. Nevertheless, services will be cut – like supplies for homeless shelters, Behavioral Health services and Adult Day Health Center.

Other proposals in the Mayor’s $118 million “mid-year solutions” are reasonable – such as merging the Mayor’s Office of Community Investment with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, a $13 million freeze in capital projects and $5.5 million in cuts at Police and Fire. We’re in tough times, and everyone has to make some sacrifices.

But Newsom’s inability to work with the Board of Supervisors has made an already bad budget situation worse. It didn’t escape the Board’s notice that the Mayor did not slash anything out of his bloated press operation – and that his “pet projects” like the 311 Call Center and the Community Justice Center (which he’s banked on in his run for Governor) are left intact. When the Supervisors get told they have to accept painful budget cuts due to a bad fiscal crisis, it leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth when projects are spared.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin has proposed his own set of mid-year cuts (at $8.5 million) – to be heard at the Board’s Government Audit Committee on Friday. Some actually overlap with what Newsom has proposed (e.g., eliminating two police academy classes) – but they also would delete two press liaisons in the Mayor’s Office (and a third one in his Emergency Management Department), reducing 50% of Hotel Tax funding for the Opera, Ballet and Symphony, and cutting three customer services agents at the 311 Call Center.

Citing a “mandate” of Proposition L’s defeat, some Board members are moving forward on defunding the Mayor’s Community Justice Center. While I have serious questions about whether the voters wanted to kill the CJC by defeating Prop L, it’s also disturbing that the Mayor will unilaterally demand we accept major health and human service cuts – while the City goes “full-speed ahead” on a Court whose function would be to refer people to such services. After his speech at the Board yesterday, Newsom insisted that the CJC would still go forward.

In 2007, when Chris Daly challenged the Mayor’s budget by offering a few cut proposals, Newsom launched the weight of his re-election team – while he practically accused Daly of stealing his manhood. Now, as the Board plans to ask Newsom to “share the burden,” will he react the same way again? It would appear rather cold and callous, when all the Supervisors are doing is helping to make tough decisions in tough times. Even the Mayor’s Office admits that their cuts won’t be enough to deal with next year’s budget deficit …