Dismantling the Newsom budget

The mayor's cheery line may sound good when he's out of town running for governor, but it's not going to play so well on the streets of San Francisco.
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EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom was upbeat when he delivered his budget proposal last week. It won't be that bad, he told everyone — "At the end of the day, it's a math problem."

Well, actually, it's not. At the end of the day, it's job losses, major cuts to city services, and hidden taxes — most of them, despite the mayor's rhetoric, falling on the backs of the poor.

You can't cut $70 million from the Department of Public Health — which is already operating at bare-bones levels after years of previous cuts — without significant impacts on health care for San Franciscans. You can't cut $19 million out of the Human Services Agency without badly hurting homeless and needy people. You can't raise Muni fares to $2 without taking cash out of the pockets of working-class people. The mayor's cheery line may sound good when he's out of town running for governor, but it's not going to play so well on the streets of San Francisco.

Just for the record, here are a few of the proposed cuts:

A 21-bed acute psychiatric unit would be shut and replaced with an 18-bed unit for milder cases. Where would the seriously mentally ill go?

The number of home-healthcare workers, the folks who take care of the very sick who need skilled clinical services in the home, would be cut by 30 percent. Those clients would either suffer, go to (expensive) hospitals, or die.

Ongoing outpatient mental health services would be limited to the most severe cases. People who are, for now, only moderately mentally ill would lose access to care (until, without care, they become severely mentally ill).

The emergency food-bag program for seniors will lose $50,000, so hungry senior citizens won't get to eat.

Almost $3 million will be cut from community-based organizations that provide direct, frontline services to the homeless.

Almost half of the city's recreation directors — people who provide direct services and mentoring to at-risk youth — will be laid off.

The Tenderloin Housing Clinic Eviction Defense Center, the only place that offers free legal defense for Ellis Act evictions, will lose funding, leaving hundreds of tenants at risk of losing their homes.

Drop-in centers will close. Programs for homeless youth will shut down. More homeless people with increasingly more serious mental illness will be wandering the streets with nowhere to go for help.

Mayor Newsom brags in his campaign ads about creating private-sector jobs — but the budget will mean layoffs not just for city employees but for perhaps 1,000 nonprofit workers. That dwarfs the job creation he's claiming — and defies the Obama administration's call for government and private business to try to preserve and create jobs.

This isn't a math problem. It's a political problem, and the supervisors need to make it very clear that the mayor's budget isn't going to fly.

The supervisors need to take the budget apart, piece by piece, and reset its priorities. Newsom increases funding for police investigators by $7 million, while cutting the Public Defender's Office by $2 million. He's preserving his own bloated political operation (a big press office, highly paid special assistants and programs like 311 that are part of his gubernatorial campaign) while eliminating big parts of the social safety net. He's raising bus fares, but not taxes on downtown.

"The mayor has presented his vision," Sup. John Avalos, who chairs the Budget Committee, explained. "Now our priorities have to be presented."

This can't be a modest, typical budget negotiation with the supervisors tweaking a few items here and there. This is a battle for San Francisco, for its future and its soul, and the supervisors need to start talking, today, about how they're going to fight back. *

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