San Francisco's Next Mayor Is Royally Screwed

Our new city flag?
Much speculation is under way as to whom the Board of Supervisors will tap to succeed Gavin Newsom, who has finally managed to flee San Francisco politics. Less attention has been paid to the gift-wrapped turd Newsom presents his successor, whomever it may be.

With a foot out the door, our erstwhile mayor left the city with a budget situation ready to rupture. Soon -- and irrevocably -- this city will be hit with a number of massive, unavoidable bills. Thanks to the will of the people in the just-concluded election, the next mayor will have fewer devices in his or her tool belt with which to fix the problems. And the all-but-preordained fragmentation of the state's budget will hit this and every city in the gut.

For starters, locally, the failure of the hotel tax measure (both of them, actually) puts the city in an immediate $6 million hole. In a neat budgeting trick, San Francisco had simply assumed those propositions would sail through, and budgeted accordingly. It's not so funny considering the financial loss, but "Don't count your hotel taxes before they pass" does sort of rhyme with "don't count your chickens before they hatch."

Lauren Smiley
'You there! Wanna be my valet in Sacramento?'
If the next mayor was hoping to recoup some city costs via the implementation of fees -- bag fees, liquor fees, cigarette fees -- forget it. The passage of Proposition 26 forbids that, and may even undo the state's current fees (lawsuits are pending).

The $250 million in give-backs the city's unions have thumped their chest over helped San Francisco move around enough beans to balance its current budget. But those give-backs are, in reality, deferments of raises already promised. The raises workers didn't get this year will come due next year. Supervisor John Avalos, a friend of labor but also a realist, told SF Weekly that labor will likely just have to agree to concessions once more. That's a lot to ask -- and, if the progressives manage to put one of their own in Room 200, it may be a hell of a lot to ask of the people who essentially put the progressives in office.

Here's another disturbing labor-related cost. The city's mandatory pension contribution will jump significantly next year. Currently at $324 million -- that's 13.6 percent of the city's $2.39 billion payroll -- the contribution rate is anticipated by the city's independent actuaries to rise to between 16.3 and 17 percent next year. Assuming payroll doesn't increase -- a hell of an assumption -- that pegs next year's contribution at around $406 million. That's $82 million more out of the city's general fund the next mayor will somehow have to find.

But that number could go higher -- Supervisor Sean Elsbernd says that the city's retirement system is "testing some demographic assumptions that go into the actuarial analysis" and seeing how long people really live. It's likely this, too, will lead to the city contributing more to its retirement fund to make up for antiquated assumptions about how long retirees survive.

Oh yeah! Health care! Expect at least a 10 percent cost increase, just like any other year.

Sean Elsbernd on Portola.jpg
Sean Elsbernd doesn't see interim mayor as a job with a future
Elsbernd disagrees with the contention that this year's budget is tied together with shoelaces because Newsom thought it would be someone else's problem (he was right). No, this is how budgets are done every year, says the supervisor. And they're not tied together with shoelaces. "I'd say paperclips and frayed rubber bands."

Whomever the next mayor is, it figures he or she will have a job that makes unexploded bomb disposal look joyous and pleasant.

"A lot of these [media] reports talk about how this is a golden opportunity for someone to get a leg up for November," says Elsbernd. "I don't care who it is, whoever is appointed in January will not be mayor a year later."

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