Proposal would take $377 million out of the annual review process
By Tim Redmond
DECEMBER 2, 2015 — Along with a critical vote on the new jail, the SF Supes Budget and Finance Committee will decide today whether 32 city departments should be exempt from annual budget review by the board.
At issue is $377 million in spending that the mayor would prefer to put into “two-year” budgets – which would mean the supervisors (and the public) would lose an annual opportunity to weigh in on how much those agencies are spending and whether the results are consistent with the cost.
According to the Budget Analyst, Harvey Rose:
One of the main disadvantages of the fixed two‐year budget cycle is that it reduces the Board of Supervisors’ budgetary authority. The budget approval process is one of the Board of Supervisors main tools under the Charter to set City policy. Other disadvantages of the fixed two‐year budget include difficulties in forecasting revenues and expenditures, and in incorporating economic and environmental changes.
Supporters of the two-year fixed budget say that it allows for better long-term planning, which makes a certain amount of sense. On the other hand, Rose points out, there’s a way to fix that: Two-year “rolling” budgets, that require annual updates and approve from the board:
Under two‐year rolling budgets, the Board of Supervisors has annual appropriation authority. The Board of Supervisors has appropriation authority over each year of the two‐year rolling budget in the first fiscal year, and retains appropriation authority over the second year of the two‐year rolling budget in the following fiscal year.1 Under two‐year fixed budgets, the Board of Supervisors only has appropriation authority every other year.
Among the departments that would escape annual oversight: The district attorney, city attorney, Planning Department, controller, Superior Court, Department of Elections – and the mayor.
The argument is that most of the departments that would be shifted to fixed two-year budgets are smaller departments and those that primarily provide services to other departments. How the Mayor’s Office, with a $19 million a year budget, fits into the category is a bit confusing.
San Francisco already has a very powerful mayor. The mayor can, as we have seen, unilaterally suspend any other elected official from office, can appoint a majority of the members of nearly every city commission, retains immense control over the budget, can veto legislation, and can make appointments to fill vacancies in any local elected office.
The annual budget process isn’t perfect by any means, and most of the time, the supes only change a small percentage of what the mayor wants. But controlling the purse strings is a central power of a legislative body, and taking away any of that authority just shifts even more power to the mayor.
I know some of the supes are concerned about this. I also know that the mayor typically has six votes for what he wants.
But we’re talking about a huge amount of money here – and a big shift in the balance of power. Worth thinking about.