No political football with budget

Supervisor Chris Daly is a strong champion for affordable housing, the lack of which is admittedly one of The City’s worst problems and a genuine threat to our future. But San Francisco has other significant needs too, and some of these are also approaching a crisis point because they have been ignored for far too long.

Balancing a metropolitan budget so that available revenues are divided fairly without bankrupting City Hall is a complex task. The 2007-08 budget Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed last week was sensible and constructive. It took advantage of a relatively good revenue year to increase spending on long-neglected infrastructure and life-quality issues directly affecting the daily existence of ordinary San Franciscans.

Now Daly, who is Newsom’s most implacable foe on the Board of Supervisors, is pushing legislation to cut $37 million from the mayor’s budget items. Daly wants to use the money for board-approved housing programs that Newsom didn’t include in his budget because he said it would throw The City into deficit.

Daly’s new bill, co-sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, would specifically cut 18 Newsom items, including some of the most important catch-ups for fulfilling the basicexpectations of a civilized urban life. Perhaps some of Newsom’s more marginal options could be sacrificed for a compromise. San Francisco could probably wait another year to spend $713,000 on redesigning the municipal Web site.

But the mayor’s budget also calls for nearly $16 million in long-awaited infrastructure improvements, and Daly wants to cut these too. It would be just plain wrong for the Board of Supervisors to tell San Francisco taxpayers they should just keep driving cars and riding buses on pothole-filled streets that desperately need resurfacing.

This has not been particularly good year for reducing violent crime in San Francisco. And it obviously does not help matters to have a badly understaffed Police Department. Newsom’s proposed $3 million for an extra police academy class to put more officers on the streets sooner should also be spared from the Daly-Ammiano cut list.

The Newsom budget already spends more for housing than ever before. The mayor is even adding $5 million to kick-start a $95 million bond issue to rebuild shamefully dilapidated public housing. Nobody denies that without substantial widening of affordable housing and home-ownership opportunities, San Francisco will drift into trouble as it continues losing its balanced workforce and families.

Still, a great, world-class city must find ways to handle many competing needs with rarely enough resources to fix everything. Relations between Mayor Newsom and the Board of Supervisors majority are more embittered than ever. But the 2007-08 budget — which has the unusual potential to make a number of important citywide improvements — should not be allowed to become a political football because of personal ambition or enmity.

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