Public employees step up; when will Newsom and downtown?

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Newsom's political ambitions seem to be trumping the need for him to show fiscal leadership in San Francisco.

With news that Muni union leaders are backing salary givebacks to help close San Francisco's $483 million budget deficit, all city employees are now making sacrifices to preserve city services that we all rely on. But as we eagerly await the release of the mayor's budget on June 1 – in which some city departments have been asked to make cuts of up to 30 percent – the question is whether Mayor Gavin Newsom will find the courage to ask other San Francisco entities to help.

For example, will he support the 2 percent increase in the hotel tax that labor is pushing (and which polls show would probably pass muster with voters if Newsom backed it), a real estate transfer tax that would hit the comfortably rich, or a downtown transit assessment district that would make corporations finally help pay for the transit services their employees rely on?

So far, it's doesn't look like it (and his Communications Office won't respond to the question). Instead, Newsom has cynically engaged in deceptive blame games that scapegoat public employees for a problem he created (for example, by approving bloated police and fire contracts to win political support and then blocking efforts to seek new revenue sources), while still pushing gimmicky new spending programs designed to burnish his political image as he runs for state office.

This could be Newsom's last chance to finally show some leadership, and now is the time when it's needed most. After offering cuts-only city budgets his entire tenure in office, most city departments are unable to go any further without sacrificing needed services.

The situation has become dire, as workers said Wednesday during a budget rally outside City Hall. Guardian news intern Kaitlyn Paris was there covering the action and offers this report:

Community groups from around San Francisco rallied in front of City Hall on Wednesday to protest the drastic reductions that health and human services face in the Governor's proposed state budget and Mayor Newsom's impending city budget.

A graveyard of tombstones representing each of the organizations stuck out of the sand next to the grassy square where participants gathered. Identifiable by their maroon sweatshirts, the largest faction present was the Community Housing Partnership. The proposed budget would cut over $100,000 from the agency and its programs that provide help with employment, substance abuse, and habitation development.

“Supervisors need to be constantly reminded of the merits of these services,” CHP employee Gabriel Haywood told us.

The partnership runs a jobs retention program that Haywood says has exceeded its city-mandated job retention rate by 25 percent, keeping 75 percent of the people it serves employed for longer than three months. Still, Cameron McHenry told the Guardian the city thinks the groups services are duplicative. [Editor's Note: information in this paragraph has been corrected since his article was posted].

The city's OneStop employment service is suited to workers displaced by the recession, not the multiple-burdened clients helped by CHP, said McHenry: “We can't take a 30 percent cut and still do the work we do.”

After speakers from various groups addressed the crowd from a flatbed truck, District 5 Sup. Ross Mirkarimi took to the stage to demand alternative ways of generating revenue. The progressive revenue tactics championed mainly involved increased hotel tax to reduce the budget burden felt by community service groups. Mirkarimi and members of the crowd also criticized the city for its continued funding of Sharp golf course in Pacifica.

“We're trying to force the Mayor to have a fair budget,” Coalition on Homelessness Director Jennifer Fredenbach told us. “We believe he can do it through alternative revenue like the hotel tax, a more progressive tax base, and a property transfer tax on high end real estate. It has real consequences for poor San Franciscans, not only in quality of life, but in the ability to live.”

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