On the issue of San Francisco’s mind-boggling budget, we decided to dig a little deeper to see how San Francisco compares to other American cities. We were hardly shocked to find that San Francisco ranks as number two (Washington D.C. gets the booby prize), but by how much this city spends per citizen exceeded other major cities is truly breath-taking. The average city budget in the 100 largest American cities is $2.146 billion with the average amount spent per citizen clocking in at $2,605. San Francisco with a budget of $7.9 billion (using 2014 and 2015 fiscal data from Ballotpedia—the latest years available for comparison) and an estimated population of 837,442 shamefully spends $9,433 per citizen. Since San Francisco is on a two-year budget cycle and we already know this year’s budget is $9.6 billion and next year’s will be $9.7 billion, and the population hasn’t increased that much, indeed the next time Ballotpedia updates the report, San Francisco stands to look even worse in comparison to other cities. Here are the runners-up for most spent per citizen: New York City-$8,690; Seattle-$6,744; Long Beach-$6,604; Honolulu-$6,036; Portland-$5,907; Boston-$4,180; and Chesapeake, VA-4,003.
OK, you might say, but San Francisco is a city and county, so we should allow for that. We checked out other major US cities that are also a city and a county, and San Francisco doesn’t fare much better: after San Francisco’s $9,433, next came Honolulu at $6,036, then Philadelphia at $2,903, then Nashville, TN at $2,837, and then Denver at $2,294. What about comparing city-counties with similar populations as San Francisco? San Francisco came out even worse when compared to two other city-counties: Indianapolis, IN with a population of 843,393 spent $1,112/citizen, and Jacksonville, FL with a population of 842,583 spent $1,258/citizen.
We also looked at the spending power per city council/supervisor as compared to other American cities, and again San Francisco doesn’t fare so well, though at least it’s not in the number one position. New York at $1.431 billion gets the booby prize this time. Washington D.C. comes in second at $777 million per city council member, Portland at $720 million per city council member, San Francisco at $718 million per supervisor, and Los Angeles at $540 million closes out the top 5. Since the recent election didn’t change the political leanings of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors much, it’s not a stretch to assume, sadly, that San Francisco will likely move up in the rankings in the upcoming years.
The possible good news is that San Francisco still has a ways to go to get to the number one position for most outrageously priced government in the country. At a budget of $10.1 billion for 646,449 residents, which comes out to $15,624/citizen, Washington D.C. is still way ahead. However, being the seat for the entire federal government, it is somewhat understandable that Washington would be in a category all its own. Since 92.8% of Washington D.C. voters voted for Hillary (as opposed to 84.47% in San Francisco), we do expect a major changing of the guard, but whether any real reduction in bureaucrats or spending will occur, we’ll wait and see.
In the meantime though, any way you slice it, San Francisco has the most outrageous cost of government in the entire country. What a way to “lead the nation” as they always like to brag about The City. And we have to ask: for all that extra cost, is San Francisco’s government providing that much better service to its citizens? Are the streets cleaner and in better paved condition? Is traffic moving smoother? Is your neighborhood that much safer? Police response times that much quicker? Are your government schools turning out better-educated thinking kids? How about Muni? Is its on-time record that much better than other cities’ public transportation? Is the justice system that much more fair than in other major cities? Should you be in the unfortunate position of having to deal with a city bureaucrat, do you feel that the person was that much more pleasant and helpful than their counterpart in other major cities? Do you feel that you’re getting close to 4 times the value of the national average of $2,605 per citizen? We doubt it.