News & Research Archive

Mayor Newsom Should Implement a Zero-Based Budget Plan

May 26, 2004

News that San Francisco has the highest percentage of city workers to its population does not come as a shock to long-time San Francisco residents. With 35 employees for every 1,000 citizens, San Francisco has more than twice as many employees as Philadelphia (16 per 1,000) and even more than New York (31 per 1,000).

Since Republican John Barbagelata lost the mayoral race to George Moscone in 1975, the mayor of San Francisco has not faced opposition from another political party, as the city seems to be a single party town - Democratic. All political opposition has been within the governing mayor’s own ranks. Since 1975, every mayor had expanded government by awarding his or her supporters with jobs, bloating the city government and its budget.

It would be one thing if all these employees reflected overall improved services and a solid, well-maintained city infrastructure, but this is not the case. Every city department is a living example of waste and inefficiency.

With San Francisco facing a major budget crisis, Mayor Gavin Newsome needs to streamline the work force and create efficiency standards for every city department. To do this, the he should consider zero-based budgeting. Under zero-based budgeting, every department starts with a zero budget and rebuilds itself from zero by looking at benefits versus costs to determine end budget requirements. By implementing zero-based budgeting, every department will be forced to prove its worth to our city.

Each department should be independently audited to ensure that political favoritism is taken out of the budgetary process. One cannot assume that each department is needed and that a new budget is accurate simply by applying a C.P.I (Consumer Price Index) factor to the budget each year.

Implementing zero-based budgeting would be a bold but necessary step for Mayor Newsom to take. He would face a strong outcry from every city department, as well as the strong civil services unions, which will fight to keep the status quo and argue for more workers and extended benefits. Yet, the benefits of implementing such a program—enhanced and streamlined efficiency—would far outweigh the costs the mayor would face.


Written by: Hans Hansson


Hans Hansson is President of Starboard TCN Worldwide Real Estate Services as well as Western Regional Vice President for TCN Worldwide Real Estate. Hans has been an active broker for over 19 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in office leasing and investments. If you have any questions or comments please email or call him at (415) 765-6897. You may also check out his website,

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