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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Supes' Proposed $82M Cuts to Cops, Firefighters are 'Symbolic' -- But Portend Bare-Knuckle Budget Battle

Posted By on Thu, Jun 11, 2009 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge The budget battle is under way...
  • The budget battle is under way...
A shot across the bow. A brushback pitch. A dropping of the gauntlet. Call it what you will, but when the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee yesterday approved $82 million in cuts from San Francisco's police, fire, and sheriffs' departments it was a statement. In essence, the Supes are putting it this way to Mayor Gavin Newsom: "You wanna cut social programs and health services and give the police, sheriffs, and firefighters more? Not without getting your hands dirty, pal."

Not even the staunchest supporters of the "symbolic amendment" to trim the public safety departments' budgets think this will actually come to pass -- "We are not going to be taking $82 million from police, fire, and sheriff," admits Supervisor John Avalos, the Budget and Finance Committee's chair. But, he continues, he's going to fight that those departments give up something -- "I'd like to see some cost savings come from their budgets. I'm not interested in laying off hundreds and hundreds of police and firefighters. I am interested in finding cost-savings within those departments." Think of this as a conversation-starter. A very contentious conversation-starter.

Incidentally, the heads of the departments in Avalos' sights are taking this quite seriously. As this article goes live, Police Chief Heather Fong and Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White are holding a joint press conference to express their "concerns." (SF Weekly's Ashley Harrell is there -- and no word on if progressive ally Sheriff Mike Hennessey was invited).

In any event, here's the timeline on this looming budget battle:

The proposed $82 million in cuts to the city's interim budget is characterized as "symbolic" because it merely represents a 7 percent slashing of the police, fire, and sheriffs' budgets. If the measure had specifically outlined what programs -- or workers -- are to go, then it would cease to be mere symbolism.

The Board will discuss the cuts on Tuesday, June 15 -- Supervisor Bevan Dufty opposed this proposal, and Avalos said he's certian the District 8 supe will air his views -- before the aforementioned scalpels and line-item budget proposals come out the next day at Avalos' Budget and Finance Committee.

The six votes the Supes need to pass their version of the budget on to the mayor are virtually guaranteed. More tenuous, however, are the eight votes needed to stave off a mayoral veto; Carmen Chu, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Sean Elsbernd -- all originally appointed by Newsom -- are the mayor's allies and Dufty has already expressed his displeasure. Meanwhile, relying upon Sophie Maxwell as your staunch ally in the face of extreme pressure is a proposition that ought to come with its own cyanide pills.

Avalos said he didn't expect Newsom would veto the Supes' budget outright -- with the mayor eyeing a Sacramento job, "that doesn't seem like a reasonable thing to do." The possibility of Newsom employing a line-item veto is about as likely as San Francisco fog, however -- and the supes would also need eight votes to overturn that.

Either way, it appears clear that, rather than the usual course of nibbling on the edges of the mayor's proposed budget, the supes have decided to take a harpoon to it. Whatever happens, the city needs to have a budget in place by July 31.

And, as seems to be a running theme these days, there's no happy ending in sight. Regardless of how the scrap turns out between the mayor and supes, "We're going to get a bomb dropped on us by the state," says Avalos. "Whatever we do in Budget Committee is going to be irrelevant a few months from now when we find out what the numbers from the state are going to be. That's the real catastrophe we're facing at the state and local level."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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