Should San Francisco cut $22 million from police, parks, street cleaning, homeless programs and mental health services, and redirect this money with no strings to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency? And not just for next year but forever? I certainly don't think so, and believe most San Francisco voters would agree.
But what if voters weren't told about the $22 million in mandated cuts? What if the ballot measure only asked them to vote on whether future SFMTA funding should be tied to The City's population growth?
It certainly sounds reasonable that the SFMTA should get more money if it's serving more people. But the SFMTA already does. In fact, the SFMTA's budget has actually increased 10 times faster than San Francisco's population over the past decade.
So why should voters approve a ballot initiative that raids other city departments to give SFMTA more money?
Welcome to Proposition B on San Francisco's November ballot.
Unlike Proposition A, the $500 million San Francisco Transportation and Road Improvement bond that funds desperately needed public-transit infrastructure improvements, Prop. B is an unfunded mandate. And while voters know how Prop. A funds will be spent, Prop. B provides no guarantees that the money it steals from other services will be spent on improved Muni service, especially for transit-dependent communities.
Prop. B is a cynical attempt by Supervisor Scott Wiener and transit activists to hijack $22 million from vital city programs without disclosing to voters how it cuts such services. They know voters would never support redirecting $22 million a year to an SFMTA bureaucracy that has a poor track record of using the money it already has — so they have concealed their money grab by connecting increased funding to population figures rather than a fixed allocation.
Prop. B backers are banking on voters not taking a close look at the measure's impacts. Their success depends on voters not demanding to know before the election what programs and services the supervisors will cut to make up for the $22 million.
Perhaps we need to schedule a public treasure hunt. We can ask Prop. B backers to hunt in the city budget for the $22 million their measure will cut from other programs. We can then publish what programs they believe should be cut to fund Prop. B before absentee voting begins. This would enable voters to decide whether they really want to cut these programs in order to spend an additional $22 million each year for the SFMTA — regardless of the agency's performance.
I head the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which is The City's largest provider of permanent housing for homeless single adults. Like other nonprofits, our workers only got 1.5 percent raises last year because supervisors claimed they couldn't find the money to give them increases equal to those granted other city workers.
If transit activists really cared about the poor, or public safety, or the state of our parks, or cleaner sidewalks, or the many other city services Prop. B will reduce, they would not be raiding these services to increase the SFMTA's budget.
Handing a guaranteed $22 million to the SFMTA each year without any assurances for how it will be spent is a terrible way to allocate city dollars. And if you think Prop. B's passage means transit activists won't be trying to raid even more money from other city programs next year, I've got a bike lane to sell you.
Randy Shaw is director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and editor of the online daily BeyondChron.org