7.5 better ways to balance the budget

Newsom's mid-year budget cut plan is completely out of touch with the fundamental priorities of our city
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OPINION In Mayor Gavin Newsom's seven-and-a-half-hour YouTube series on the state of our city, he spends barely 30 seconds addressing the budget deficit.

Newsom's mid-year budget cut plan is completely out of touch with the fundamental priorities of our city. At a time when residents are feeling the impact of the recession in their daily lives, the mayor's plan guts our public health safety net by slashing programs that serve seniors on fixed incomes and by reducing frontline healthcare workers.

What's more, the mayor's mid year cuts leave untouched his bloated senior staff and protects management-heavy departments around City Hall.

So, in response to the effort to balance the budget by slashing tens of millions in health services for the city's neediest, a coalition of health workers, health providers, and patients are putting forward alternative ways to address the city's budget problem that are worth our time and thought.

Among the ideas offered by the Coalition to Save Public Health are the following:

1. Start at the top, not at the bottom. Since the mayor first took office, the number of highly paid managers has skyrocketed while the number of employees providing basic city services has stagnated. It's time to tighten our belt at the management level and eliminate all but the most essential positions that pay more than $100,000 per year.

2. Practice what you preach. In November 2007, the mayor announced a non-essential hiring freeze to deal with the budget crunch. Newsom then promptly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring new senior staff including highly paid and duplicative special assistants for climate control initiatives, "neighborhood empowerment," and a new greening czar. All new staff hired since November 2007 who are paid more than $100,000 should be cut.

3. Cut duplicative programs. The city spends more than $10 million per year on small business outreach and economic development. The Mayor's Small Business Assistance Center duplicates those services and costs nearly $800,000 every year.

4. Listen to the voters — cut the Community Justice Court. Proposition L was rejected by more than 57 percent of the San Francisco electorate. It's time to listen to the voters and preserve revenue by cutting current-year funding for the CJC.

5. Save on spin, spend on substance. A recent controller's report found that the city spent more than $10 million in salaries for public relations and public information staff, including funding for seven people in the Mayor's Office of Communications last year. The mayor should cut all unnecessary PR staff and reduce his spin operation to two people.

6. Cut the fat, not the bone. Both police and fire unions are due for 7 percent pay increases. As the city cuts salaries or lays off staff across the board, the mayor should work with the board to reopen fire and police contracts.

7. Eliminate unnecessary drivers. For years, the Fire Department's battalion chiefs have relied on "chief's aides" to chauffer them around the city. The estimated cost for these positions is more than $2 million.

7.5 Cut in half the city's contribution to the opera and symphony. In the current year, the city is contributing close to $4 million in General Fund revenue to the operation of the opera, symphony, and ballet. We can't afford to subsidize organizations with enormous endowments while we slash services for people in need.

Aaron Peskin is president of the Board of Supervisors.

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