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Griffin: Bad timing for baby bonds

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At the Jan. 9, 2008, ceremony where he was sworn in as mayor for a second term, Gavin Newsom announced, “We will create baby savings bonds to deposit $500 for every new resident born in our city.”

The baby-bond money would be used to pay for college or first-time homeownership. That initiative never made it out of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, mostly because, in 2008, San Francisco’s deficit was about $350 million.

Fast forward to 2010, and The City is facing a $500 million deficit: Lieutenant governor candidate Newsom just announced a plan to create college savings accounts for kindergartners. (Do I even need to point out the hilariously convenient timing of the announcement, mere days before the primary election?)

Treasurer Jose Cisneros estimates that the new proposal would cost $200,000 to get started and $400,000 to $500,000 a year once it’s up and running. 

I called Jake McGoldrick, a former District 1 supervisor who was the chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee that killed the baby-bond program back in 2008, and asked for his thoughts.

“We have had to bail out the schools year after year with the rainy-day fund that now sits empty,” said McGoldrick, who’s now a professor and president of the Adjunct Professors Union at the University of San Francisco. “This is money we need right now for kids. We’re hardly meeting their needs today.”

“I plan to come to public comment and speak against this [new proposal],” he told me. “It’s not that I’m against the idea behind it. The minute we have a budget surplus, I’d say, ‘Let’s do this.’” 


Muni operator pay becoming hot topic for November ballot

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s drive to collect signatures for the Fix Muni Now initiative is in full swing. The point of the effort is to put a City Charter amendment on the November ballot requiring the transit operators union to actually negotiate wages instead of being guaranteed the second-highest hourly rate in the nation.

“We’re hitting all of our marks,” Elsbernd told me. “If we continue to do that, we will have enough signatures to make the ballot.”

He also said the last 20,000 to 30,000 signatures are the hardest to get because “it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t already signed.” I certainly don’t know anyone who hasn’t.

In the meantime, the mayor announced a deal with the Muni operators union last week.

Sources tell me the deal would allow the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to hire around 180 part-time workers and require that employees actually work 40 hours per week before getting overtime. Note that the tentative agreement allows operators to get their charter-mandated annual pay increase at a cost of $9 million, or roughly what the “deal” would save The City this year.

Of course, all this assumes the rank-and-file actually approves the agreement. From what I hear, the executive board of the union hasn’t signed off on the package, much less the actual union members. Plus, an extremely good source tells me that executive board member Eric Williams, who narrowly lost a run for the presidency of the union last year, continues to angle for leadership and has been adamantly opposed to any deal. No one is saying when union members will vote.

Also seizing on the opportunity to save the day are supervisors David Campos, David Chiu, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi, who are sponsoring a charter amendment of their own for the November ballot. Like Elsbernd’s Fix Muni Now initiative, this alternative amendment would eliminate the formula used to calculate operators’ wages. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the amendment is that it would create a $40 million set-aside for the SFMTA. I call it “interesting” for two reasons: First, recall that last year Chiu and Mirkarimi sponsored a charter amendment that would eliminate all set-asides (I guess if you can’t beat ’em ...); and second, with city services being slashed left and right, I expect nonprofits and other labor groups to be furious at the prospect of an additional financial hogtie.

In the end, voters will likely be the ones sorting out the mess. Though at this point, I’m not sure I trust anyone else.


Prop. A affords another chance to fund schools

Today is the final installment of my voter guide for Tuesday’s election. We end with Proposition A, which is a tax measure for schools. (For those of you who are not my mother and thus do not have a full collection of all my Thursday pages, my prior columns about other propositions can be found at www.sfexaminer.com/opinion/columns/melissa_griffin.)

If this seems like a familiar exercise, it’s because this is the sixth time we’ve voted on education-related revenue since 2000. Usually we vote on educational dollars in the form of bonds, but Prop. A is a property tax — actually, it’s an extension of a property tax we already have.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged some of our schools and child care facilities, so voters agreed in 1990 to assess a property tax for the rebuild and seismic upgrade of school district buildings. (Fun fact: According to the 1990 Voter Guide, the only member of the Board of Education who voted against putting the measure  to voters was Leland Yee, who is now one of our state senators.)

The 1990 tax was set to last for 20 years. Prop. A extends it another 20 years and mandates that the money continue to be used to repair and maintain school facilities. The amount of the tax is $16 per residential parcel in a multifamily building and $32 for single-parcel residences and retail parcels.

Ever the loyal opposition, Dr. Terence Faulkner wrote the ballot argument against Prop. A, calling the Board of Education “bloated” and lamenting the state of city schools. “Show a globe of the Earth to a San Francisco Board of Education student,” he wrote. “Ask him to find China, India, Italy, Egypt, Canada, or even San Francisco on that globe. You will not like the results.” Ouch!

Well, election results are the only ones I’m concerned with right now. Be sure to vote, fellow citizens. Do it for your city. Do it for your family. Do it for the sticker.