Supes spend, as deficit looms

So three-fourths of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors thought it made sense last week to vote an extra $33 million for affordable housing and home-loan aid — even though that would more than double the $25.4 million deficit The City’s own financial officers already projected for next year’s budget?

Theoretically the pair of one-time spending measures would be coming out of the current fiscal year’s $126.6 budget surplus. But since that rare San Francisco surplus was already being counted into the 2007-08 deficit, it would seem highly irresponsible for supervisors to knowingly continue spending money The City will not have.

Supervisor Chris Daly’s proposal allocating $28 million to buy, build or upgrade affordable housing for families, seniors and homeless was passed 8-3, with Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Ed Jew and Sean Elsbernd opposing. A smaller appropriation measure from Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval adding $5 million to the Mayor’s Office of Housing Down Payment Assistance Loan Program passed 9-2, with only Jew and Elsbernd again in opposition.

Those vote totals would presumably enable the supervisors to easily override a possible veto by Mayor Gavin Newsom. However, Newsom could achieve the same effect as a veto by simply not spending these board appropriations. A spokesman for the mayor said all options are under examination.

Meanwhile, Newsom has prudently told all city departments to prepare plans for cutting their fiscal 2007-08 budgets by another 3 percent, on top of the 3 percent cuts he was already requesting. With next year’s projected deficit now potentially doubling in size, the extra round of cuts could be expected to produce unwelcome changes such as some employee layoffs and removal of two ambulances from Fire Department service.

Nobody is arguing that the extreme lack of genuinely (as opposed to officially) affordable housing is a major long-term problem for San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. It literally drives from The City thousands of the kind of middle-class and low-income families so vital to a fully functional economy. And it strongly discourages new businesses and high-demand professionals from coming here in the first place.

But if the housing shortage needs to be seriously addressed, what about The City’s other basic public needs? Can we really afford to take away $33 million from hospitals, fixing holes in the streets, maintaining the parks as urban decompression chambers and the little matter of public safety?

If there is anything that California’s local politicos should have learned from the frantic fiscal roller-coaster ride of recent years it is that reserves are not a dirty word, and holding ample reserve funds to handle true emergencies has become more vital than ever in the seesawing 21st-century global economy. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is way behind the curve in applying the hard lessons of post-2001 fiscal responsibility.

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