Public Health Cuts Hearing Today; Newsom’s Bad Budget Planning

by Paul Hogarth on June 15, 2010

It’s the same story every year. Today, the Board of Supervisors will have its Beilenson Hearing on the Mayor’s cuts to the Department of Public Health that affect poor people. Bring a box of Kleenex, because there will be four hours of public testimony from service providers and their clients who rely on these basic services to survive. Gavin Newsom proposes these same cuts year after year – knowing they’re only a fraction of the budget, and that the Supervisors will feel compelled to save them. Meanwhile, the City Controller’s analysis of the Mayor’s budget suggests that it relies on dubious factors – some of whom we won’t fully know the details until Gavin is in Sacramento. And yesterday, the Controller’s Office released its annual report on the Police Department – that we can civilianize 251 jobs being done by cops, which could save the City a lot of money.

Same Cuts, Different Year

Newsom’s budget – which he released with much fanfare on June 1st – makes $12.25 million in cuts to Public Health services to the indigent. And this does not include the $11 million in “savings” that would come from privatizing Jail Health Services. Today, the Board of Supervisors will have its hearing on these cuts.

State law requires a Beilenson Hearing when a county proposes Public Health cuts. In 57 of California’s 58 counties, it makes sense to have the Board of Supervisors – who makes these cuts – sit through hours of heartbreaking testimony. But in the City and County of San Francisco, the Mayor proposes cuts – leaving the Supervisors (who Newsom refuses to meet with, despite a voter mandate passed in 2006) explaining why these cuts are on the table.

But the problem is not that the “wrong” politicians must sit through a City Hall hearing. It’s that the same non-profits – who provide front-line services, and should be spending their time serving clients – have to come back every year just to keep saving their jobs.

This year, Newsom wants to cut $230,000 from the SF AIDS Foundation – like he tried last year. Community Awareness Treatment Services (CATS) is also fighting a second year in a row over $300,000. HIV Prevention programs at St. James Infirmary, UCSF and elsewhere are fighting a $214,000 cut – after they fought $283,000 in cuts last year.

For the third consecutive year, the Mayor has proposed cutting over $700,000 in mental health services – because they don’t serve people who are “severely” mentally ill (as if waiting for people to get worse is going to save money.) For the second straight year, there are 10% cut proposals to AIDS housing subsidies – which only costs $559,000.

Outpatient services are again being cut to the tune of over $4 million – and Newsom’s claim on June 1st that Walden House was spared is simply untrue when you read the cut proposals. Hyde Street, Westside Community Health and Bayview Hunters Point Foundation – they’re on the cut list again, just like are almost every year.

And the SRO Collaboratives – who work with residential hotel tenants to access services and build community – are being cut by $445,000 this year, after a $750,000 cut proposal last year, $333,000 in 2008 and $233,000 in 2007. My colleagues at the Central City SRO Collaborative have a long running joke – the City should fund us to work for eleven months, because for the twelfth month we must drop everything just to save our funding.

Collectively, these cuts are just a pittance out of a $6.6 billion City budget – but it serves a political goal on the part of Mayor Newsom. If the Supervisors have to spend all their time trying to restore these services, they don’t have time to make substantial changes in the rest of the budget. In the end, the Mayor controls the lion’s share of our money.

Dubious Budgeting by the Mayor

It would be one thing if these cuts were part of an austere and prudent “belt-tightening” as the City faces hard times. But the City Controller’s analysis released last week shows the Mayor’s Proposed Budget relies on: (a) unsecured federal revenue, (b) state budget cuts that could be worse than expected and (c) local revenue that is politically explosive.

Moreover, $257 million of how the Mayor has plugged the hole comes from one-time funding sources that cannot be used again. He passed on savings from the past year, plans to leave the Rainy Day Fund with a mere $6 million – and next year’s deficit is expected to be $400 million. By then, of course, Newsom will likely be Lieutenant Governor – and this will be a problem for the next Mayor and Board to deal with.

The Mayor’s Budget Proposal has put $30 million aside to cushion us from inevitable budget cuts in Sacramento. Last year, Newsom first proposed $25 million – and the Board could only save crucial services by using $7 million of that money. Now, with further budget cuts, will Newsom only restore these cuts if we spend part of the $30 million? Because after the dust settled last year in Sacramento, the City had to make further health and human service cuts.

Eight million dollars of revenue that the Mayor is counting on would require passing an ordinance to mass-convert TIC’s (tenancies-in-common) into condominiums. This would by-pass the City’s careful limit of condo conversions to curb gentrification and the erosion of our rental housing stock, and everyone knows is politically explosive. The Controller even said he will put $8 million of the budget on reserve, because we don’t even know if it’s going to pass. Meanwhile, progressive Supervisors feel they’re being bullied to pass it.

Another six million relies on altering the Hotel Tax to clarify that online travel companies must pay the difference between what they sell to customers and what the hotels receive – in order to end litigation where the City has been shortchanged for years. The Mayor’s Budget Director Greg Wagner even mentioned at last weeks’ Budget Committee that this would require a November ballot measure. But what was left unstated is that organized labor is collecting signatures to put the Hotel Fairness Tax on the ballot, and Newsom has opposed it.

Savings in the Police Department if We Civilianize

One group that won’t see layoffs this year is the Police Department, and Newsom’s legacy has been a generous POA contract he negotiated in 2007 that has given us an exploding police budget. But the other part of the story is how many cops are doing civilian jobs.

The City Charter mandates a minimum of 1,971 “full-duty sworn officers” at all times, and the Police Department every year says that we are cutting it too close. A Beyond Chron analysis of the Mayor’s Proposed Budget, however, calculated funding for 2,434 police officer positions – excluding the Airport Police (who cannot be counted for the purpose of the Charter minimum.) With only 90 cops expected to retire this year, that brings the number down to 2,344. In other words, over 300 police are in civilian jobs.

The voters passed a Charter Amendment in 2004 – during Newsom’s first year in office – that mandated civilianization of the Police Department, and even lowered the minimum of “full-duty sworn officers” if the Police Chief certifies that these positions have indeed been replaced by civilians. In the past six years, only 77 jobs have been civilianized.

Yesterday, the City Controller’s Office released its annual report on civilianizing the Police Department, and the numbers are dramatic. 251 positions are currently filled by cops – 212 in support functions, and 39 in patrol and investigations – that could be done by civilians. The report compared San Francisco with other cities who have civilianized their Police Departments, and have thus saved money.

In the report, they recommended fully civilianizing the CompStat Division, the Forensic Services Division, the Permits and Property Units of Support Services and Technology Division. Having civilian employees deal with “non-hazardous calls” – such as those with no suspect at the location – and conduct initial investigations that don’t require a special skill set would not only save personnel costs, but also save considerable time.

After six years, it is clear the Police Department has not done enough to civilianize its force and thus keep its costs under control. Especially when compared with other cities.

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