Report Examines the Impacts of San Francisco’s many Budget set-asides
According to a report compiled in April by the city controller’s office in San Francisco, since the mid-1990s, the amount of money San Francisco has allocated based on voter-adopted initiatives has ballooned dramatically. This has some San Francisco lawmakers beginning to take a hard look at the long-term consequences of the city’s abundant use of budget set-asides, which are voter-approved ballot measures that mandate how the government spends money on specific projects. According to the report, in the next five years, San Francisco will spend $1.6 billion on set-asides. This is 30 percent of the city’s $5 billion general fund, which is its primary source of discretionary funding. San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin stated,
All of the set-asides are for remarkably worthy causes, but it really constrains the city, the Board of Supervisors and the mayor from being able to make tough decisions on an annual basis. It’s the easy way out — it doesn’t require us to look for new sources of revenues [and it] constrains the ability to govern and allocate money in the best and most mature way that’s most responsive to the needs of the day
By comparison, in the 1994-1995 fiscal year city spending on set-aside initiatives was $200 million. According to Supervisor Katy Tang, while set-asides provide a fixed amount of funding for essential city services, like transportation and libraries, once funding is locked up by the voters, city officials are essentially powerless to make adjustments. The controller’s office states that San Francisco currently has 19 set-aside mandates, which is far more than any other large city in the state. Most of San Francisco’s set-aside requirements, about $418 million, are allocated for the Municipal Transportation Agency. Currently, only 10 of the city’s 19 set-asides have fixed expiration dates and voters would need to approve the other expiration dates on the other nine set-asides.