Late-night San Francisco budget plan adds back millions to health and welfare spending

The Public Press
 — Jul 2 2009 - 12:22am

After a month of political jockeying, protests and two days of marathon budget negotiations, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget Committee approved a framework budget for the coming fiscal year.

Yet it was a tentative victory for the progressive caucus, as there will doubtless be millions of dollars shifted around for weeks as officials horse-trade before the final budget is passed later in July. And this budget plan leaves looming questions about how state budget cuts will affect the city's fortunes, as well as the possibility of conflicts with the mayor months hence, when it comes time for him to spend the money.

The progressives, led by budget chairman John Avalos, were able to find $44 million in the general fund to "add back" to community organizations. Topping the list of add-backs were substance-abuse and mental-health treatment organizations, including a full re-funding of Caduceus Outreach Services, a SOMA-based mental-health organization that would have had to close by Aug. 1.

“These add-backs save lives,” said David Chiu, president of the board.

Supervisor Chris Daly's emotions were on display for all to see throughout the proceedings, as he visibly teared up and his voice caught as he spoke about his favored programs. For Daly and his allies, it was a complicated dance because California had yet to balance its budget, and much of the city budget hinges on state matching funds.

In order for California to balance its budget, it may need to slash funding to the same organizations that were re-funded Wednesday. But in a letter to the budget committee, Mayor Gavin Newsom promised $18 million from the general fund in preparation for state cuts, a relatively small number compared with expected shortfalls.

“It’s nothing,” Daly yelled as the letter was read aloud in the chamber.

Also uncertain was whether Newsom would resurrect his past practice of altering or ignoring the supervisors' add-back lists. About 40 percent of last year’s add-back funds have yet to be restored, city Controller Harvey Rose said.

“Our work today stands very vulnerable before us,” Avalos said, later adding that he trusts the mayor's word when he said he wanted to work with the board.

This sent Daly into a long, a tearful rebuke of Avalos: “I know you better than the comments you previously made. I considered you my best friend.” The two supervisors exchanged a few angry words before Avalos left the chamber to grab two bottles of champagne.

The exchange illuminates a rift that may be growing within the progressive coalition -- with veteran board members like Daly growing weary of the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches of city government, and new members such as Avalos and David Campos, who are willing to collaborate.

“This board and this mayor, at the end of the day, are willing to work together,” Campos said.