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Tuition-free CCSF hangs in the balance

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CCSF students, faculty and supporters gathered on the steps of City Hall to introduce a proposal for free community college for all in San Francisco. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Pointing to income inequality, members of the Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday spending $9 million to make City College of San Francisco tuition-free.

But Mayor Ed Lee — who has spending power while the board has appropriation power — has said he will defy the board’s will and only partially fund the effort, allocating that $9 million over a period of three fiscal years.

SEE RELATED: Avalos finds $38M in budget to counter mayor’s hit to free CCSF

That means that free CCSF would be phased in or apply to only certain students if the mayor sticks to his position.

Board members are vowing to push back, especially during the upcoming budget process for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017.

The board voted 9-1 Tuesday to support the $9 million spending proposal introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim for a free CCSF. Supervisor Mark Farrell opposed it.

“We have a legacy here in San Francisco of being bold and progressive,” Kim said. “We are one of the wealthiest cities in the world, which means that we can not only dream up these concepts, we can actually afford to pay for them.”

“I implore and urge the Mayor’s Office to join us,” Kim said.

Kim argued that Proposition W, a real estate transfer tax approved by voters in November, included a mandate to make CCSF tuition-free since the campaign made it clear that funding was to do just that. However, there was no language in the measure itself dedicating the funds.

The mayor announced in his budget plan last week that he would use voter-approved Prop. W tax revenues to partially replace the lost sales tax revenues after voters rejected a sales tax hike in November. That sales tax revenue was assumed in the budget to pay for homeless and transit services.

The mayor’s budget plan only provides CCSF with $500,000 this fiscal year and $4.25 million in each of the subsequent fiscal years, not the estimated $13 million annually needed to make free CCSF a reality.

Farrell argued that homeless services should be the top priority and that there wasn’t a voter mandate to make free CCSF. “I don’t hear daily about the need to provide free City College for our residents. I want to be clear though, I hear daily about the need to get people off our streets,” Farrell said.

But Supervisor Malia Cohen said that there was a direct correlation between homelessness and investing in education. “Education is key to stabilizing and growing household incomes,” Cohen said.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed said the funding dispute with the mayor would have to be worked out through budget negotiations.

“The mayor wants his budget passed. Part of working with this board is making sure he is adhering to the things that we want as well. That is going to be part of negotiations,” Breed told the San Francisco Examiner.

Other board members emphasized there are other ways to balance the budget, while protecting Prop. W funds for the board’s previously stated intent, for free CCSF and street tree maintenance.

Supervisor John Avalos, who attended his last meeting Tuesday before being termed out office, proposed using $38 million in the current city budget in salary savings he identified as a counter to the mayor’s plan.

This issue of the mayor’s spending power has come up before. In 2009, Avalos proposed a charter amendment to authorize the board to mandate the mayor to spend certain appropriations, but it never made the ballot.

CCSF was last free in 1983.

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