Budget pen becomes a hatchet

An estimated 450 city employees — including doctors, attorneys and police command staff — are slated to lose their jobs as a result of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed $6.5 billion budget for next fiscal year, which he unveiled Monday.

Facing a projected $338 million budget shortfall, Newsom cut 1,085 jobs from city payrolls — some unfilled but still budgeted, and the 450 filled positions. The City’s Department of Public Health will be the hardest hit — losing the equivalent of 227 full-time positions.

News of the projected budget deficit was announced at the end of last year, and Newsom subsequently asked city departments to cut salaries, crack down on excessive overtime, decrease department spending and freeze new hiring.

Newsom’s budget talk was not all bad news. The City is generating revenue from property-transfer taxes, tourism and its hotel tax, he said.

While San Francisco’s economy remains strong, cuts at the state and federal levels have left The City with a shortfall of funding. Additionally, The City projected increased costs in labor due to increases in growth in wages, as well as the rising costs of health and pension benefits.

On Monday, Newsom applauded some unions, such as the Municipal Executives’ Association and the Laborers Union, for revisiting contracts and accepting cost-cutting measures, such as unpaid furlough days.

Other unions are still in negotiations with The City and may offer similar concessions. Some labor leaders said, however, they are reluctant to give back money because The City might be in the same fiscal situation next year, said Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council.

“What the long-term vision of The City is, is unclear based on our meetings with the mayor,” Paulson said.

Despite the layoffs, Newsom said The City’s new affordable health care program for the uninsured, Healthy San Francisco, would receive a $14.5 million increase in funding this year — receiving $37 million total. The new funding is available as a result of a state grant, he told The Examiner after his speech.

The proposed budget also includes $4.9 million for three more police academy classes, which Newsom said would ensure that San Francisco met voter-mandated police staffing levels.

Additionally, the budget includes $38.7 million for street repaving, a $2.3 million increase from last year.

The City’s $6.5 billion budget has increased by $440 million from the budget that was announced in June 2007. Of the total budget, general fund spending — for functions such as police, fire, parks and libraries — makes up 47 percent. The remainder of the budget comes from San Francisco’s enterprise departments, including Muni, the Port and the airport, which generate their own revenue.

San Francisco also has slightly increased the number of city employees since 2002, including an additional 1,125 workers since Newsom came into office in 2004. The proposed number of employees for San Francisco — which is unique in that it is responsible for city as well as county responsibilities — is 27,785.

In his budget speech, delivered at the site of the former Hunters Point Shipyard, Newsom pledged to work with labor and help each laid off employee find a new job.

“We’re not just cutting people out and throwing them out on the streets,” Newsom said.

Newsom’s proposed budget is now in the hands of the Board of Supervisors, who will have until July 1 — the start of next fiscal year — to review, amend and approve it.

dsmith@sfexaminer.com

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