Griffin: Board’s budget power grab 

Think of The City’s budget system like this: The mayor brings the Board of Supervisors a stack of checks with the “amount” and “purpose” sections already filled out; the mayor can’t deposit the checks unless the board signs them; however, once signed, the mayor doesn’t have to deposit them.

But what happens if the board really, really wants the mayor to spend one of those checks? Nothing. Tough noogies.

Credit-rating agencies love this absence of budgetary bureaucracy, but it makes the Board of Supervisors perpetually apoplectic.

That’s why Supervisor John Avalos introduced a charter amendment that would empower the board to force the mayor to spend money on specific items. The amount of the forced spending could only be as much as the board has cut from elsewhere in the budget, and all this would be subject to a mayoral veto.

For progressives on the board, this is a way to make sure their priorities are funded (affordable housing, nonprofits and avoiding layoffs) and their nonpriorities are defunded (watch out Police and Fire departments).

Moderates are nervous because the Mayor’s Office has been a reliable stop where the board-led train to Crazytown can be derailed. This amendment would make that an express route.

However, some moderates I’ve spoken to welcome the proposed amendment and debate that would go with it.

“This whole fight will be a referendum on the Board of Supervisors,” said one political consultant who asked not to be named. “People think they are idiots even in good times, but giving them budgetary control when we are in crisis? No way. This thing will go down in flames. ... And once we have clear proof that San Franciscans have no confidence in the board, we can use it as evidence that district elections don’t work.”

Indeed, the timing does seem unfortunate — not only because people are frightened about The City’s financial future, but also because the turnout for June elections is usually more conservative. I spoke with Ben Tulchin of Tulchin Research, who said, “In San Francisco, with Democrats having little to get excited about, this June’s electorate will likely be older, homeowners and live on the west side of The City.” That’s hardly the ideal profile for Avalos’ proposal.

On Feb. 23, the full board will vote on whether to put this measure on the June 8 ballot. So, stay tuned to see whether the board will write a check that voters probably won’t cash.

Oh, the horror! If mayor leaves office early, supes name fill-in

A recent poll showed Mistermayor as a front-runner if he were to enter the race for lieutenant governor, and since then local wonks have been chirping about whether he will run.

Here is my 2 cents, er, chirps: The answer is no.

It just doesn’t make any sense. Why would Mayor Gavin Newsom go all the way to that sad little place called Sacramento just to hold Meg Whitman’s umbrella? And while serving on the Agriculture and Water Transition Task Force (not making that one up) might be tempting, I doubt the lieutenant governor gets a security detail or even keys to the office supply cabinet.

Not Mistermayor’s style at all.

There’s another issue at play here, though: Who becomes mayor if Newsom leaves office a year early?

Let’s assume he’s elected lieutenant governor and takes office in January. The Board of Supervisors would then appoint a new mayor who must serve at least four months but could serve up to a year, depending on the date of the next election, when voters would finally have a say.

The board-appointed mayor need not be a supervisor. It could be anyone. Yes, anyone. (Mayor Griffin?) With a progressive majority at the board, I think the prospect of a year with Mayor Chiu, Mayor Peskin, Mayor Daly or Mayor Campos is frightening enough for Newsom to forgo the glint of glory that comes with the office of lieutenant governor.

Lawsuit goes after city’s voting system

Sometimes it’s pretty weird being a lawyer at a City Hall cocktail party. Paranoia is the house wine of San Francisco, so I’m always being cornered by someone who wants me to know that California “isn’t legally a state” or that I should be suing the city administrator on behalf of the Farallon Islands.

“Uh huh. OK,” I nod and smile, careful not to feed the political animals.

All of this is why, years ago, when a friend told me his “legal theory” that our system of ranked-choice voting is unconstitutional, I didn’t think much of it.

Well, lo and behold, some folks have actually filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that very thing. Their argument is this: We only get three votes regardless of the number of candidates. When there are more than three candidates, anyone who votes for the three least-popular candidates gets shafted because they are left out of the final rounds when the winner is picked. According to the lawsuit, it’s like holding a general election where there are four candidates (A, B, C and D) and if A and B end up in a runoff, anyone who voted for C or D is banned from the runoff.

This, according to the plaintiffs, deprives people of a constitutional right to equal voting power. One named plaintiff is former supervisor candidate Ron Dudum, who lost to Ed Jew in a 2006 ranked-choice election.

“Why now?” I asked Dudum.

“Because there are supervisors races this year and a mayor’s race next year, and I want to make sure my vote counts,” he said.

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