Examiner Editorial: Desperate deficits, with no gimmicks left

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and California nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor had remarkably similar things to say this week about the latest deficit revelations in a rapidly worsening multi-level budget crisis.

Newsom said Thursday that The City has used up every easy solution after five years of shortfalls, and tougher measures cannot be avoided any longer. San Francisco is projecting a $522 million deficit in the next fiscal year and all city departments are being asked to cut their budgets by nearly one-third — after already submitting 25 percent cuts last year.

Meanwhile in Sacramento, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said next year’s state deficit will be $20.7 billion — and many one-time gimmicks the lawmakers used before cannot be repeated. If serious fixes don’t begin quickly, California will drown in $20 billion annual deficits for at least five years.

In other words, both the state and city have just about run out of the smoke-and-mirrors trickery they relied on for years to delay taking difficult and unpopular steps to remedy a dysfunctional budgetary process.

Because our current political leaders are such hard-headed partisans and so inventive about avoiding risky votes, it would be naive for The Examiner to express much confidence that 2010-11 will finally be when San Francisco and California get serious about fiscal reform. But even if it doesn’t happen next year, it cannot continue being delayed much longer.

Desperate times don’t allow frivolous responses indefinitely. Only two choices loom ahead: Either the shaky towers of bad political decisions get rebuilt, or soon our city and state will set off a domino effect of governmental bankruptcies that becomes an epidemic across America.

Unfortunately, it is also likely that the necessity for true reforms will not be faced until the last possible moment — or until voters get so angry that any further delays will become impossible. But that level of public motivation cannot be far off, now that the truly ugly service cuts can no longer be postponed.

Meanwhile, we can expect an indefinite period of short-changed schools, hospitals, police and fire departments, street and highway repairs, park upkeep and disability aid. More public employee layoffs and furloughs will cripple basic services, contractors will go unpaid, and bond credit ratings will plummet.

Insupportable cuts will damage just about every aspect of life that not so long ago made the “California dream” a showpiece for creative progress.

It might take a new constitutional convention, but the sooner that voters step up and push for genuine change, the sooner we will have some chance to revive the glories of the California dream and a San Francisco worth leaving your heart in.

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