THE BLOG

San Francisco Needs Long-Term Budget Solutions

07/29/2011 04:03 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2011

Yesterday, Interim Mayor Ed Lee signed San Francisco's Fiscal Year 2011-2012 budget. I am pleased this year's budget was passed with less conflict than in past years. But ultimately, this year's budget, passed by an interim mayor, is full of interim solutions to our long-term budget challenges.

To achieve balance, this budget relies on uncertain savings like deferred pay-raises, pension reform that has not yet been enacted and a sales tax that voters have previously rejected. We need to get serious about addressing the long-term structural deficits if we are going to give citizens the San Francisco they deserve. As a supervisor, I pushed hard for real budget reforms because I knew that making government more efficient meant more resources for the programs people really use.

As a supervisor, I led the effort to enforce a 7-year audit schedule for all city departments, and we found money that was ultimately put to better use. I pushed to eliminate duplicative city functions, and at the same time, I led the fight to preserve crucial services and programs when they were threatened.

Because we found savings elsewhere, we were able to stop the closure of neighborhood firehouses. We saved in-home support services and mental health programs from draconian cuts. These successes were temporary. To permanently address our budget challenges, we must make wholesale changes to the budget process.

First, we have to implement zero-based budgeting. Right now, the mayor bases each budget year on the prior year's expenditures. Under zero-based budgets, each department justifies their expenditures and there will be no sacred cows. Zero based budgeting also allows for annual reviews of program effectiveness, allowing for targeted reductions rather than across the board cuts.

Then, we must put a searchable budget online. It's your money, and you should know where it goes. Existing budget documents do not clearly outline who's receiving city funds and for what purposes in a way the public can understand. Using departmental submissions from the zero-based budgeting initiative, we can ensure the timely posting of budget information on the Internet.

Like every family, the city family must balance its budget and refrain from spending money it simply doesn't have. With those common sense values, and good government reforms, we can restore long-term fiscal discipline to City Hall.