While state and city officials throughout California gear up to deal with serious budget shortfalls, officials are gearing for action. Surprisingly, the Republican governor of California and the Democratic mayor of San Francisco are taking not dissimilar approaches.
When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-16-08 on December 19, 2008, he effectively ordered all state employees whose paycheck relies on the General Fund to begin taking unpaid "furloughs" for two days per month. This will affect state employees, but in San Francisco, drastic action also has to be taken, to address a projected citywide budget shortfall. In early December, Mayor Gavin Newsom set out a number of budget proposals, including a wage freeze for many local city and state employees in the Bay Area.
The mayor's office reports that the budget deficit for next year is expected to be nearly $600 million. By law, San Francisco lawmakers are required to keep a balanced budget. One San Francisco Board of Supervisors even reportedly suggested a wage freeze for many city workers, allowing that such an action could save more than $30 million per year. That particular suggestions has not appeared to gain much traction, though it is not known if the mayor has warmed to the idea or not.
Like the governor, the mayor has suggested dealing with a budget shortfall by proposing hiring and spending freezes, which have not been specified as of yet, and are still options on the table for the mayor and city lawmakers. Various layoffs have reportedly already occurred.
Like the governor’s proposal, wage freezes for city employees may have success wrapped in both fiscal and psychological bases. Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s many ABC-programs during the Great Depression, some of the budget fixing alternatives offered by Newsom are little more than window dressing on a crumbling building. Not hiring one class of police cadets will no more save the city than will raising taxes enormously: when the economy is in shambles, you don’t force the struggling citizen to foot the bill.
While California creaks and groans under the current financial fiasco, Schwarzenegger and Newsom both have their work cut out for them, and both appear to recognize the psychological and fiscal impact of finding and determining the best way to solve the state's dire budget problem.
Wage freezes and minimal firings are the ugly necessities that come with a bloated budget that was irresponsibly created in the first place.
Humans are incredibly complex figures, and they need both emotional and physical assurance that their elected leaders are working to solve their government’s problem. Newsom and Schwarzenegger are on the right path, though neither has reached the end of their journey.