If Supervisor Scott Wiener and transit activists get their way, San Francisco’s most vulnerable residents will face millions of dollars in budget cuts next year. Wiener’s Prop B raids $22 million in annual funding for nonprofits and sends the money to that bottomless funding pit known as the SFMTA—with no money earmarked for MUNI service.
How is such a mandated money grab possible in progressive San Francisco? How could Wiener, who came to office backed by real estate speculators and only supports tenant measures he has no power to enact, get progressive transit activists, five other supervisors and the San Francisco Democratic Party to raid $22 million annually from already underfunded nonprofit services?
It is a cynical story. It involves Wiener betraying nonprofits, putting the $500 million transit bond at risk, and backstabbing Mayor Lee all for the goal of giving no-strings money to an SFMTA that has failed to translate a decade of steep budget increases into improved MUNI service.
Wiener’s War on Nonprofits
I understand why Wiener backs Prop B. Wiener is the Board member most opposed to nonprofits. He fought to eliminate the nonprofit exemption on Transit Impact Development Fees. Wiener pushed for the proposed Vehicle License Fee to go 100% to transit, though it had originally been intended to be partially available for human services. He has never led efforts to increase annual cost of doing business funding for the nonprofit sector.
Wiener knows that Prop B takes money from nonprofit budgets. That’s why he recently voted against the David Campos resolution to put the Board on record backing a supplemental appropriation for nonprofit worker salary hikes if the city’s budget is doing well mid-year. Wiener knows there won’t be a dime left for nonprofits if Prop B passes; otherwise he would have backed Campos’ resolution (which got seven votes)..
What’s troubling is that after progressive Board members allowed nonprofit workers to get stiffed in the recent budget process, they then joined Wiener’s plan to take an additional $22 million from nonprofits each year.
How did this happen?
Progressives Put Head in Sand on Prop B
Some progressives backing Prop B are relying on a head in the sand approach. They believe that the city will easily “find” the $22 million allocated to Prop B without cutting funding to nonprofits.
But having run a nonprofit for three decades, I know firsthand San Francisco’s real budget history. When funding declines, the cuts are not from the top. Nor are the rich taxed, fire stations closed, or the number of top city administrators reduced in order to meet the funding needs of nonprofits serving the poor.
In San Francisco’s real world , nonprofit budgets and salaries are the first to be frozen or slashed to meet funding shortfalls. It’s the low-paid, disproportionately people of color providing nonprofit services to the poor who inevitably pay the price.
If the city budget can take a $22 million annual hit without hurting nonprofits, why did nonprofit workers get hosed this year with lower raises than all other city workers? If nonprofit workers only got a 1.5% raise without Prop B raiding $22 million, its passage virtually ensures no pay hikes for nonprofits next year–and likely in the near future.
City workers have multi-year contracts so won’t be immediately impacted by Prop B. The only workers providing city services whose funding can be reduced or frozen to make up for the Prop B money raid are those employed by nonprofits.
Prop B backers who claim it won’t hurt nonprofits are either blissfully ignorant or starry-eyed idealists unfamiliar with the past decade of budget decisions in San Francisco. And let’s be honest—- there are a whole lot of “progressive” transit activists who don’t see reducing inequality and economic unfairness as priorities.
No on B’s Uphill Fight
Mayor Lee personally opposes Prop B. So why is he not uniting nonprofits and others who think there are smarter ways to spend $22 million each year than giving it to SFMTA with no strings?
The answer is that the Mayor’s top priority this November is passing Prop A, the transit bond. He fears that his combining Yes on A with No on B will confuse voters and prevent Prop A from reaching the 2/3 vote it needs.
I understand why the mayor does not want to lead a campaign against giving more money for transit while also asking voters to back a $500 million transit bond. The Mayor’s fear of losing Prop A also helps explain why he is not going after Wiener for the supervisor’s attacks on the mayor’s leadership. Wiener has become the media’s go to guy for thinly veiled “anonymous” attacks on the mayor, and was the chief source for the recent Cote-Knight story, “Mayor Ed Lee not Mr. Nice Guy around City Hall anymore.”
With Mayor Lee on the sidelines on Prop B, there is nobody with the resources to mount an opposition campaign. It will be up to voters to ignore what slate cards tell them and to learn the facts about why they should vote No on B..
It’s an uphill fight, because Prop B’s ballot language talks about matching MUNI funding to population growth without disclosing MUNI’s budget has increased ten times more than the city’s population over the last decade. Nor does the ballot language reveal that the $22 million requires cuts in other vital city services.
And should Prop B pass, you can bank on transit activists seeking additional funding next year. Even if this again means that nonprofit workers and the city’s poor get the budget shaft.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.