Twenty four hours past schedule, the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee passed the City budget last night – where they restored over $25 million in social services, stopped the privatization of Jail Health and other City functions and halted a flawed proposal by the real estate industry to fast-track condo conversions. But the delay was not because the Mayor and Supervisors were mired in any long talks. In fact, negotiations stalled on Wednesday – after Gavin Newsom (for the first time) demanded that the Board dump a series of unrelated Charter Amendments. Only a $4 million gap existed in budget talks then, and the Supervisors could have caved – or, even worse, scaled back on restorations. But Budget Chair John Avalos and Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, David Chiu and Sophie Maxwell should be applauded for standing firm. Eventually, the Committee found appropriate ways to balance the budget without cutting such a deal – as the budget now heads to the Full Board.
When I arrived at City Hall on the morning of June 30th – the last day of the fiscal year, often called Add-Back Day
, it looked like a budget agreement was close and it would be a relatively painless night. Things especially looked good by 2:00 p.m., when we learned the City had unexpectedly high revenue
this month from an extra $13 million in the real estate transfer tax.
But as the hours ticked by, advocates (many of whom must come back each year to stop budget cuts the Mayor proposes) stood nervously in the hallway as Supervisors shuttled between offices. It was hard to get answers, and I became doubtful a deal would happen.
When I checked my e-mail at 6:45 p.m., Gavin Newsom’s campaign for Lieutenant Governor had sent a solicitation – noting that June 30th was a fundraising deadline for him to report money. I began to wonder if the Mayor was even inside City Hall at all.
Yesterday morning, the Chronicle reported
what was holding up the budget negotiations – a series of unrelated Charter Amendments.
Specifically, the Supervisors are considering some November ballot measures to reform City commissions entirely controlled by the Mayor: Recreation & Park, MTA and Rent Board. It’s like earlier efforts from the Willie Brown era to have “split appointments” on the Police and Planning Commissions, but Newsom feels these measures are a “power grab.” Policy discussions aside, however, they are irrelevant to passing this budget.
At 4:00 p.m., members of the Budget Justice Coalition visited Room 200 – pretending to be “hostage negotiators” and offering pizza to help ease the budget stand-off. Rebecca Bowe of the SF Bay Guardian was on hand
to videotape the whole session, which can be viewed here
Incredibly, the stalemate was over a $4 million gap between what the Supervisors wanted to fund, and what the Mayor was willing to give – chump change in a $6.5 billion budget. It would have been very tempting for Budget Committee members to go along (or make even further concessions) – due to a desire to conclude matters and move it to the Full Board so everyone can go home. The fact that Budget Chair John Avalos and others stood firm to pass a budget is admirable.
In the end, no deal was reached – and the Budget Committee re-convened at 6:00 p.m. to pass the budget. All “Prop J” proposals – where the City contracts out services at a lower bid, such as security guards at SF General Hospital or privatizing Jail Health Services – were rejected. But to save money for the City, the Supervisors had asked unions who represent these workers to help bring down costs – and $3.85 million was identified.
Moreover, the Supervisors restored an historic $25.6 million in budget cuts. The SRO Collaboratives – who Newsom explicitly said he “could not justify” at his June 1st budget address
, are restored and will be funded
through the Department of Building Inspection. The $125,000 grant to the Tenderloin Housing Clinic for Ellis Act eviction defense was also put back in the budget.
$6.3 million in Department of Public Health cuts were saved – such as housing subsidies to AIDS patients, HIV benefits counseling and mental health trauma services. We see many of these same cuts every year
at DPH, but the Supervisors always restore most of them because it’s not much money.
Cuts to the Human Services Agency got a $3.87 million restoration – with a myriad of programs like family rental subsidies, single adult supportive housing, job training for the homeless, shelter bed replacement, and senior services such as elder abuse prevention.
The Department of Children Youth & Families got a $6.78 million restoration – including $1 million in violence prevention funds, $1.657 million in youth leadership programs and $2.281 million in after-school funds. The Board also restored some prior year add-backs.
For a complete list of the add-backs (and how the Board of Supervisors was able to find the money), click here.
“This budget restores the most critical city services in our communities,” said Budget Chair John Avalos in a press release last night. “It doesn’t save every program, but it represents a cooperative effort between budget stakeholders that balances the budget responsibly - without disproportionately burdening our City’s most vulnerable.”
So how did the Budget Committee pay for this? Besides savings that had been generated through Harvey Rose
and the unexpected transfer tax revenue, they responsibly made cuts in various city departments where there is fat. For example, the Police Department has a $250,000 budget for new officer training – although there are no plans to hire new cops this year.
As for the Fire Department budget
, which Beyond Chron has extensively covered, the Supervisors civilianized an EMS captain position that is currently doing a desk job – and this person will be transferred out in the field. Even the President of the Firefighters Union agreed to this cut – and while Board members would have liked to have seen more, the Fire Chief was resistant
One of the big problems with how budget season is structured is that Supervisors don’t get a real opportunity to probe in each Department, and demand the kind of structural change that could save millions of dollars. It’s clear that this kind of work should be done year-round, and Beyond Chron will cover the Fire and Police Departments more closely – so that deliberative reforms that really cut down costs can truly materialize.
Now, the budget goes to the Full Board of Supervisors -- where the Charter requires a final budget by the end of July. The Mayor has not formally approved the budget amendments, but his spokesman said last night
they are willing to work with the Supervisors. And with Newsom’s fiscal priorities largely intact (Avalos said last night they would restore some of the Mayor’s pet causes like Project Homeless Connect and Kids2College Savings Plan), we all hope that a reasonable and mutually beneficial solution can be reached.