FOLLOW THE MONEY: THE 24/7 BUDGET BRAWL IN (SAN FRANCISCO) CITY HALL (one in a series)


Redbeardedguy - Posted on 14 June 2011

Author: 
Bruce Allison and Thornton Kimes

 

 

"Ed Lee influenced the budget process and caused it to not have as many add-backs as in past budgets.  The San Francisco Fire Department and SFPD have to share the pain too, not just the poor."
--POOR Magazine poverty skolah and Po' Poet Charles Pitts

From Thornton (Bruce's Section follows)

Bruce Allison and I have jointly written about various aspects of the San Francisco budget, the (as I like to call it) 24/7 Budget Brawl In City Hall, a little something-something about how the budget develops from a twinkle in the Controller's--and others'--eyes, and other pieces of the puzzle.  I recently published one about the "City Family" and the "kinder, gentler" Machine Politics (I didn't use the phrase, but the Bay Citizen "Bay Area" section of the 6/5/11 New York Times DID call it "Machine Politics" in the sub-headline) blandly ripping the stitches out of the fabric of the city.

Amerikkka is constantly proclaiming its status as the wealthiest nation on Earth, and we live in one of the richest parts of it, yet we are told there is no money, no resources for much else but fire and polices services--and making war on oil-rich people who don't like our government and have the guts to admit it publically.  Even in good economic times the poor get given crumbs and the sage advice to take them and like it.

California has been suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound called Proposition 13, which limited the taxation of private property and began a slow suicide squeeze on the state budget that surely must be the envy of any Major League Baseball team manager who pays any attention at all to reality.  Follow the money, see what it is spent on, or not spent on, and you will know what people care about--and what they don't care about.  Follow the money, see what is or isn't taxed, or controlled in some similar fashion, and see who benefits and who doesn't.

A year or two ago someone was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying there are no state services for the rich.  I've commented on this before.  Forbid insurance for gazillion dollar homes in the fire seasonally fire-prone Santa Cruz Mountains, or in other exclusive California areas whether they have naturally beautiful scenery or not; force the owners to pay the total cost of orange goo-dropping fire season fire suppressing aircraft, professional and slave-labor state prisoner firefighting units, and change the shape of the debate.  What else qualifies as services for the wealthy?

When you are put on an economic starvation diet, threats to cut more (like state level Stage Three Child Care, free food programs for fixed-income Elder Poverty Skolahs, or anything else) is a lie, a street-level game of guess-what-cup-the-peanut-is-under while I move them around the table-top at warp speed.  If you guess where the peanut is you get to eat it, but I don't give you any dollars. 

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia calls that "The Lie of the Budget Cut".  I've been calling it "The 24/7 Budget Brawl In City Hall".  The Budget Brawl in San Francisco often looks like this: the Mayor proposes, and the Supervisors (aka "Supes") also propose, and eventually cut things from the budget that are later returned to the budget after a lot of people have visited the Supes to speak into a microphone and tell them why they shouldn't damage or kill the program that means so much--or means life and death--to them.

We go through this Budget Brawl every year.  The California Legislature goes through a much nastier version of the Brawl (there are more gunslingers in "the streets" up thar in Sacramento after all...), often unable to agree on the content of the state budget until well after the deadline for passing it is past.  There's gotta be a better way, especially when you consider that the "kinder, gentler" Machine Politics cranking up in San Francisco is no better than the supposedly hard-on-the-nerves stuff people have been convinced they hated and wanted to replace with politeness and "we're here to get things done". 

FROM BRUCE

Every year I act like it is Halloween when I give my three minute talk to the San Francisco Supervisors; I've been Darth Vader, The Grinch, George Washington, and various other characters.  The groups that stand out from the public-comment crowd are the ones that have their piece of the budget saved from the red ink-pen.

The Seniors and People With Disabilities Caucus say that they can get most of the money being cut from the city budget back through "add-backs"--the same old same old thing the Supervisors do to restore cuts, or find a little bit here and a little bit there (instead of spending too much on Capitalistmas lights, or whatever).

We're all after the same piece of the pie, the same crumbs.  The average Elder in the city (25% of the population, age 55+) makes about $600 a month.  None of my friends own their own home, let alone two, like Rush Limbaugh wants people to believe.

Elders are dying here because the wealthy aren't paying their share.  Law firms fall into Loophole Limbo, the partners not paying taxes on the money they earn doing the firm's legal work.  Each time this is mentioned, they shout "Poverty!", despite making $5 million or more annually.  A proposition and a San Francisco Supervisors ordinance aimed at this problem landed in court--the lawyers claiming that they are being over-taxed.  Ex-Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and Jobs San Francisco are on the side of the lawyers, crying "Wolf!" that all the law firms will leave the city if they lose the lawsuit.

How many times have we heard this argument?  Too many!  San Francisco has the highest minimum wage in the country (the Living Wage, or Minimum Compensation ordinance), has guaranteed health care for all workers--the same 'Cry Wolf' tactic was used for both of the above too.  I haven't seen any of those guys shut their doors yet.

I was in Sacramento, CA, Thursday June 9th, 2011, protesting (among other things) the fact that Chase Bank has failed to pay at least $15.3 million in back taxes in 11 of California's 58 counties, and owes much more than that in the rest of the state.  That is still a drop in the bottomless bucket of the billions of dollars that have been cut from the state budget, but if Chase Bank and all the others guilty of the same thing were forced to pay what they owe our budget problems would be much smaller.

Don't listen to SPUR (San Francisco Planning for Urban Research--which used to spell Urban Redevelopment; the non-profit reinvented itself to shield itself from the long memories of those of us who remember what happened to the I-Hotel, the Western Addition/Fillmore District, the area around what became the Yerba Buena art museum, the Moscone Center, MOMA {the Museum of Modern Art}, etc) and other right-wing organizations! 

They are so business oriented they have forgotten their original missions, to help the "little guy". 

 

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