Where Has the Money Gone?

By Phillip Sprincin : cityjournal – excerpt

In 2009, San Francisco’s municipal budget totaled $6.5 billion—$8.6 billion in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation and population. San Francisco’s budget for 2019 is an eye-popping $12.2 billion, a 10 percent increase just since 2018. The city has failed to match this staggering budget growth with a similar increase in capital investment or services, however, providing an object lesson in the limits of what money can do.

Companies like Google, Salesforce, and Uber, headquartered in and around the city, pour sky-high salaries and stock-option windfalls into the local economy, which has seen real estate values—and the cost of everything else—soar. City coffers overflow with tax revenue. Though the effect has been most pronounced for the past decade, it extends as far back as the first dot-com boom, 20 years ago—in 1999, the city budget was $4.2 billion, equivalent to $7.7 billion today. The excess budget above inflation and population growth over those 20 years totals an astonishing $23 billion…

The paltry results from exceptional budget growth are also a story of mismanagement. The Central Subway, though one of the most expensive subway projects in the world, has almost run out of money; its opening was recently delayed another 18 months. Last year, Muni made critical upgrades to the century old Twin Peaks tunnel, requiring additional busses to substitute for trains during the work. Muni didn’t plan for the extra drivers and took them from other routes, leaving the city short on service and causing a system-wide “meltdown.” The “Grand Central of the West,” despite having no tunnel or tracks, still cost $2.2 billion; it closed only six weeks after opening, due to structural cracks. The city spent $2 million to build a public bathroom at $4,700 per square foot, a construction cost similar to high-rise luxury condos. As successful as the OneSF capital plan has been, searching for a list of projects on its website returns the message, “the requested page could not be found.” San Francisco demonstrates that throwing in more money will compound mismanagement, not solve it.

The story of San Francisco’s budget over the past two decades shows that the city’s leadership doesn’t really value many of the issues—transit, affordable housing, clean energy—that it says it does. Given how little the city has done with its incredible windfall, year after year, it’s not clear what it values at all… (more)

Interesting article on national site that focuses rather narrowly San Francisco’s surreal budget. One must ask the question, what are they doing with all that money?

 

 

2 thoughts on “Where Has the Money Gone?

  1. Reader comment:

    In recent years, thanks to downtown development, additional payrolls and the housing shortage, San Francisco has been raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes every year. (See SF Assessor’s Annual Reports). If the City were well run, these huge incoming increases would be going to a mix of needed new infrastructure, essential public services and the build-up of an adequate rainy day fund. Mr. Sprincin suggests that much of this incoming largess is instead being wasted on ill-conceived, ill-managed boondoggles; street changes of small consequence; ineffective attempts to deal with SF’s safety and social problems; payments to assorted non-profits with vaguely-defined programs; and increased administrative costs. If so, San Franciscans should be furious with their municipal City government.

    Gerald Cauthen P.E.
    Co-Founder and President,
    Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG)
    510 208 5441
    http://www.batwgblog.com

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s