After Mayor Ed Lee presented his proposed balanced budget on May 31 of this year, the Budget and Finance Committee, which I chair, spent the month of June reviewing the mayor’s draft, sitting through committee hearings with every major department, meeting with our controller and the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office, and meeting with residents, community organizations, city commissioners, business leaders, labor organizations and others to thoroughly assess the budget proposed by the mayor. In addition, we held six town hall meetings throughout different neighborhoods across San Francisco (including one at Galileo High School in District 2), an online town hall forum, and a full day of public comment that lasted more than six hours at the Budget and Finance Committee.
It was a long and exhausting process.
As I stated when we began this process, my role as chair of our Budget and Finance Committee was two-fold: strongly advocate for my budget priorities, while at the same time develop a consensus budget with my colleagues to create a budget we can all support. After months of work and a number of all-night efforts at City Hall in the final weeks, I am thankful that we did just that. On July 23, 2013, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the consensus balanced budget reached by the Budget and Finance Committee for Fiscal Year 2013-14 and 2014-15, and on July 24 Mayor Lee signed the final budget into law.
Overall results of the committee
This year our budget increased from $7.2 billion last year to $7.9 billion in the new fiscal year. It’s a massive budget, and there are many reasons why it is so large for a city of only 800,000 people. Principal among these reasons is that San Francisco is both a city and county, requiring us to provide many additional services not typical for a city of our size, including running two hospitals, an airport, our port, and even our own utilities – together, these departments account for approximately half of our overall budget. Nevertheless, there is valid debate for another day about whether our overall budget is too large.
Leaving this aside, during our budget process this year, we closed budget deficits of $124 million for the next fiscal year and $256 million for fiscal year 2014-15. In order to allocate funds differently from what Mayor Lee proposed, the Budget & Finance Committee must first find savings through cuts in the mayor’s budget. Through the help of our Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office, we were able to find more than $40 million in budget savings – with $25 million for fiscal year 2013-14, and $15 million in 2014-15. The revised budget built on Mayor Lee’s original plan by adding additional investments principally for workforce training, parks and open spaces, children and family services, and infrastructure projects.
The Budget and Finance Committee came up with $25 million in savings, and funding decisions, for FY 2013-14 through various sources. The committee accepted $9.9 million in cuts recommended by the board’s budget and legislative analyst, Harvey Rose. There was an $8.9 million surplus from last year and unexpected gains in revenues from property taxes. We were also able to refinance some outstanding debt and save approximately $2.3 million by eliminating the purchase of new vehicles with less than 100,000 miles on them.
As the Budget and Finance Committee debated which line items to cut from Mayor Lee’s budget, and what line items to add to our revised budget, we had significant debate about different priorities. While there were some areas of consensus, there were many areas of disagreement — certain supervisors believed in creating additional social service programs, providing additional funding for our non-profits in San Francisco, and others wanted to add reserves to our long-term budget, fund parks and open spaces projects, and provide additional funds for children’s services. Personally, I continued to advocate for budget priorities within District 2, a budget that prioritized our local economy, as well as a budget that focused on quality of life issues for all San Franciscans.
Ultimately, with the additional savings we found throughout the budget process, the Budget and Finance Committee funded the following initiatives that were not included in Mayor Lee’s original budget:
- Fully funded all of the federal budget cuts to HIV/AIDS services;
- Opened a new Recreation and Park clubhouse in every supervisorial district (Julius Kahn in District 2);
- Added a half-dozen new gardeners for our city’s parks;
- Enhanced homeless prevention services for San Francisco’s families;
- Enhanced ongoing infrastructure projects citywide;
- Added $2 million in direct childrens services;
- Added $2 million in workforce training programs; and
- Added a 1.5% cost of living increase for our city’s service providers.
Not only did we find savings and add services, but as chair of the budget committee, I continued to push hard for long-term financial planning, and as a result we were able to add a record amount of funds into our city’s budget reserves to protect against the next economic downturn.
Though San Francisco is in a much better place financially than recent years, we cannot take anything for granted as it relates to our local economy and must continue to ensure that our city is fiscally responsible, safe, and successful.
District 2 and the budget
The savings we found at committee also went to fund various programs in District 2, including afterschool programs and children’s services. We were also able to provide nutritional meals to seniors in our district who rely on services for at least one meal a day and funds to help close the digital divide by providing computer literacy training to seniors.
I also advocated for funds for family services and community-building efforts within District 2 through neighborhood-focused events, such as the Marina Family Festival, and various beautification measures in our neighborhood commercial districts, including new benches and trees along Fillmore and Union, and projects within our various parks in District 2. In addition, we set aside funds to focus on the Lombard Street corridor and traffic enforcement at the crooked portion of Lombard Street.
I’m proud that we were able to come to a consensus and pass the FY 2013-14 and FY 2014-15 budget unanimously at the board, which the mayor supported.
Though no one agreed with every line item, I believe our budget reflects the priorities and values of both the mayor and the Board of Supervisors — but most important, of the residents of San Francisco. It is a budget our entire city, and District 2, should be proud to support.
This article concludes our three-part series intended to inform everyone how our budget process works in San Francisco.