Proposition E - Dignitary Security Budget

Voter Guide
June 1, 2010
This measure appeared on the June 2010 San Francisco ballot.
 

What it does

Proposition E would amend the San Francisco Administrative Code to require the Police Department to include a line item for its expenditures on security for City officials and for dignitaries visiting San Francisco.

Currently, the San Francisco Administrative Code and state law allow City funds to pay for drivers and security officers for City officials on 24-hour duty, including time when those officials are engaged in political activities instead of carrying out their governmental duties.

Why it is on the ballot

There is no requirement for the disclosure of City funds spent on dignitary security, even within a closed session of the Board of Supervisors. In 2008-2009, the Police Department reported spending an estimated $2 million for dignitary protection, and the police chief has expressed willingness to disclose these costs through the remainder of his tenure. However, there is no way for elected officials or the public to confirm this estimation or to ensure such disclosures in the future.

The Police Department's budget is approved by the Police Commission, and submitted to the mayor, who presents the City budget as a whole for approval to the Board of Supervisors. The department's budget in FY 2009-10 is approximately $442 million. This measure would help further characterize and specify the department's budget, but may only do so for a fraction of its expenditures.

This measure is on the ballot because the mayor vetoed a previous attempt to pass a similar measure through the legislative process.

Pros

Arguments in favor of this measure:

  • This measure will increase transparency regarding the level of funding expended for dignitary security, and characterize it in proportion to the Police Department's overall budget.
  • In light of dramatic City and state budget shortfalls, it is fiscally responsible to evaluate all expenditures of City funds, and Prop. E would allow dignitary security to be equally evaluated.
  • Federal and state budgets disclose dignitary security funding levels for the U.S. Secret Service and the California Highway Patrol, respectively.

Cons

Arguments against this measure:

  • This measure sets a bad precedent. Expanding line-item, ballot-box budgeting to other departments would not only further politicize the budget, but would inappropriately mandate an unnecessarily high level of specificity for some functions.
  • Including a line item for dignitary security solely for transparency purposes—but not policy-setting purposes—is an inappropriate use of the City's budget process.
  • Even if the Police Department sets a level of funding for dignitary security, it may not reflect actual costs. There is no reason to expect that dignitary security costs will be consistent from year to year due to the unpredictable nature of election cycles, special events and visits by foreign or U.S. officials warranting police protection.
  • If costs exceed the dignitary security budget, the department would be forced to draw from other areas of its budget. If dignitary security costs are less than budgeted, the department may be perceived as overfunded. This measure could result in security levels based on political and budgetary pressure rather than on true need.

SPUR's analysis

Transparency of dignitary security costs is important. However, this measure could politicize dignitary security budget levels by creating pressure to establish (and meet) budget targets based on political considerations rather than true need. While the measure could help the public understand more about how the Police Department spends its resources, the additional transparency would make no improvement in security or policy in this area, and could detract from it. It also sets a bad precedent that could expand line-item, ballot-box budgeting that could further politicize the budget and require needless specificity.

SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Prop. E.