San Francisco spends more money on government than it did a decade ago, but that government employs fewer people. Public safety spending is a smaller portion of the total budget than ever. And The City’s debt has shot up in just the past few years.
Until recently, that kind of historical, comparative information about where our public money goes might have required some serious data mining. But a nonprofit run by Stanford students and alumni has created a new Web interface that makes it a few clicks away.
The group, called California Common Sense, started out by dissecting the California budget, creating tables that allow each year’s budget to be compared historically and broken down into components. Then the group was contacted by mayoral candidate Phil Ting, San Francisco’s assessor-recorder, and his organization Reset SF, who asked them to break down San Francisco’s budget in the same way.
California Common Sense Executive Director Dakin Sloss said the group hopes to eventually spread its “transparency portal” to every county in the state.
In a news conference about the new Web application Thursday, Ting said the motive is to help residents better understand how their tax dollars are being spent.
“We have government by emotion, we have government by anecdote, but we really don’t have government by data,” he said.
The data were entered from various city budget reports, and break down how much money was spent each year on various budget sectors — public safety, culture and recreation, public works and community health, among others. Several sectors can be broken down further, allowing users to compare spending with various performance metrics.
Sloss said his group did not use information available from The City’s own data site, called DataSF.org, which also provides the public with information about its government, but in many cases requires more analysis to access.
Sloss pointed to the example of transit, and compared public spending on Muni with the agency’s on-time arrival rate. In fact, both figures have increased over the past decade, but spending has outpaced arrival time improvements, percentagewise.