When budget season comes around in San Francisco, it is typically a time for everyone around City Hall to crawl into the trenches and prepare to defend their portions of the budget. The standoff starts in earnest when the mayor introduces the budget, and it increases to a full-fledged war when the Board of Supervisors holds its hearings to approve the spending.
And then there is this year.
Mayor Ed Lee on Thursday unveiled his proposed city and county budget, a $7.3 billion spending proposal. The recovering economy in San Francisco has allowed Lee to balance the next two fiscal years’ budgets without cuts, according to his Budget Office.
When the budget heads to the board, there is the process of add-backs. That is when the supervisors look to cut from one place to add money to other areas that are losing money. It is also a time when there can be objections to new revenue sources. But without cuts in the budget, there seems to be little room for quibbling over spending priorities.
And the revenue that is flowing into San Francisco coffers is coming from increased revenue streams already in place, not any gimmicky schemes that would need future legislative approval.
It should be acknowledged that the new budget is also the outcome of tough budgetary choices in the past few years. San Francisco voters in November approved Proposition C, a pension-reform measure that was backed by Lee.
The reform measure forced San Francisco workers to pay more into their pensions, but it is also saving about $40 million for the budget. Every department in San Francisco has been hit in the past few years with budget woes, but this budget halts the bleeding and, in some cases, begins the healing.
Lee recently announced that San Francisco will be spending $6.6 million to make up for federal cuts in HIV/AIDS program funding. The budget also includes $6 million in funds for the San Francisco Unified School District to help offset state cuts that resulted in teacher layoffs. There is also a proposal that would, over six years, add firefighters and hundreds of police officers to the ranks of departments that are currently understaffed and could become more so in the coming years as retirements hit the ranks. The public-safety proposal is a stark change from 2009, when a bloc on the Board of Supervisors moved to strip tens of millions from police and fire.
The budget also has funds for Muni to hire more workers, which it needs to do to improve service while cutting back on costly overtime. In total, there are 695 more city and county positions in the proposed budget — more jobs for San Franciscans and Bay Area residents.
The budget proposal is also the first time San Francisco has budgeted for the next two fiscal years. This new approach lessens the opportunity to use incoming funds to plug budget holes and instead forces San Francisco to spend wisely and think about long-term fixes. There will likely be maneuvering for funding for certain programs as this budget proposal goes before the supervisors.
Within reason, moving funds from one department to another is OK, as long as the goal of long-term fixes remains intact.
San Francisco is on a path of economic recovery, and this budget reflects that.
Lawmakers need to reflect on the tough budget years we have had, and move ahead with the budget process to take advantage of the better times, but to also plan for the future.