In January, a panel researching San Fransisco’s proposed “reparations for slavery” devised some jaw-dropping ideas. Selling homes to Black residents for $1, a guaranteed income of $970k for the next 250 years for Black residents, and the elimination of all personal debt were among the suggested reparations.
And, of course, a one-time payment of $5 million to every eligible Black resident of San Fransisco.
The plan was ambitious. When the reparations committee supervisor, Shamann Walton, was asked about the absurdity of the $5 million payouts, he suggested that the proposed amount was “minuscule” compared to other reparations efforts. With projected costs of $175 billion for the $5 million payouts alone, the planned reparations surpassed the annual budgets of 47 out of 50 states nationwide.
Predictably, the plan has been delayed, perhaps indefinitely, by San Francisco’s massive budget deficit. Currently at $780 million, the city’s deficit is expected to top $1 billion by 2027. Mayor London Breed originally asked for a spending budget of $14.6 billion over the next two years. She has called for $75 million in cuts from agencies city-wide to reach that mark.
One of the first offices to go was the Office of Reparations.
Walton had seen it coming. He initially requested $50 million to establish the office, then reduced the request to $10 million before finally settling on $2 million to hire staff and provide essential funding.
But Breed eliminated that $2 million as part of the budget cuts, not just for this year, but for the next two years.
Part of Breed’s nearly $15 billion annual budget will be used to enhance San Fransisco’s police force. It is a necessary expenditure since rising crime has driven many of the city’s businesses, taxpaying residents, and tourism away from the floundering city. In addition to dealing with the dwindling revenues, San Fransisco has seen a spike in pension payouts and increasing health insurance costs.
But, unsurprisingly, the most significant fiscal challenge in San Fransisco arises from the struggle to house and provide benefits for the city’s burgeoning illegal immigrant and homeless population. Breed has been forced to reallocate $60 million in funds designated for permanent housing towards homeless shelters and temporary housing, echoing a controversial budget proposal in San José concerning its homelessness expenditures. Additionally, she proposed tapping into a voter-approved tax allocated for early childhood education and childcare.
Lawmakers addressed the budget gap for the next two years using temporary solutions that relied heavily on almost $1 billion in one-time funds. These funds originated from various sources, including FEMA reimbursements for emergency pandemic spending, a settlement from an opioid lawsuit against Walgreens, and other reserve funds.
Using these one-time sources to balance a budget is common, and the City Controller’s Office notes that it is within the city’s legally mandated limits. However, a budget briefing letter from the controller also warned that using nonrecurring sources to support operations “creates a future budget shortfall,” which must be addressed by reducing expenditures or identifying replacement sources.
Breed has eliminated millions in spending, but the Reparations Office has been scratched in what Walton describes as a “temporary delay.” While calling the delay “disheartening,” Walton acknowledges that the budget cuts were necessary.
Walton will continue working with the reparations committee to identify other avenues the city can take, such as expanding a historically Black Los Angeles college to San Fransisco via a satellite campus.
In Walton’s mind, however, the $5 million in payouts to Black residents is still on the table, albeit a few more years later than he had hoped. He expressed his hope that the city’s deficit would be resolved “promptly” so he could “honor the commitment to rectify the historical injustices and inequities” he says have plagued Black residents of San Fransisco for generations.
California has been looking at state-wide reparations plans that weigh eligibility on proof of direct harm and length of residency. Additionally, the state-proposed reparations will compensate each Black individual more than $115,000 in funds in restitution for over-policing Black communities and the “mass incarceration” of Black citizens. The plan also calls for an additional $148 thousand for Black residents who face housing discrimination and a payment of more than $13,000 per person for every year lived in California to balance inequality in health care.
California’s annual state budget is $237 billion. The expected state-wide reparations have an estimated cost of over $800 billion. To address this obstacle, the California Reparations Task Force suggests paying the sum over several years, beginning with one “down payment.”
Most Americans understand that reparations will never happen but hope springs eternal for those wishing to receive millions in payouts. It’s a cruel trick to play on the Black community, but for Democrats, the ends justify the means. A few more years of buying the Black vote should give progressives enough time to finish their priorities, after which a few million in broken promises won’t matter anymore.