February 13, 2011; Source: San Francisco Examiner | For some time now, the budget process in San Francisco has followed a predictable course. Each year, budgets would be proposed that promised to slash millions of dollars in funding for nonprofits. But then, often in the face of intense lobbying from nonprofits with political clout, city supervisors would suddenly discover a pot of money – most of it alleged savings from the proposed spending cuts – and then use those dollars to restore funding. 

Calling that process, known as “add-backs”, a charade, the city’s new mayor, Ed Lee, wants it to end. The mayor, who assumed his post last month after previously serving as city administrator, said add-backs have been one of his “No. 1 pet peeves in this budget process.” 

According to the Examiner, during the city’s last budget process, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee restored some $40 million in funding to health, substance abuse, and other social service nonprofits that then-Mayor Gavin Newsom had proposed be cut. Although the add-back process has come under scrutiny and criticism before, including a June 2009 civil grand jury report, the process lives on. 

In its earlier report, the grand jury said political clout, not evidence of effectiveness, often determined how the city allocated funding for nonprofits.  The report noted: “Nonprofits that provide services to local communities are able to marshal constituents to lobby a supervisor. Since board members most often wish to be re-elected or have political aspirations, they respond to the pressure by adding money to the budget.” 

There’s no guessing Mayor Lee’s position on the cut and replace game the city supervisors play.  “I’d like to have a process where you just do the add backs on the front end and avoid this charade we have every year.”—Bruce Trachtenberg