The financial report, due Nov. 28, won’t be ready for at least several more weeks — and unions cry foul

San Francisco has missed, by several months, the Charter-mandated deadline to produce its annual Comprehensive Annual Financial Report — and, even in a best-case scenario, won’t release it for several weeks more.

This is significant because, while San Francisco’s astronomical budgets receive international press, it’s the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) that reveals just how closely we’re sticking to that budget and just how financially healthy our city is.

A budget is an aspirational document. The comprehensive report is concrete.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield on Tuesday confirmed that this year’s report is months late, and it’ll take lots more work before it’s finished.

“We hope to publish it in the next several weeks,” he wrote. “We’re producing it out of a new financial system for the first time in nearly 40 years, so it’s challenging this first time.”

This is cold comfort to the city’s public sector unions, who use the annual report as a baseline to start their negotiations. Without it, they say they’re flying blind.

“We can’t strategize unless we have the numbers,” says Gus Vallejo, the president of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21 and a city IT worker. “Usually we have it by the end of the prior year.”

San Francisco’s city charter, in fact, mandates the controller to produce an annual report within 150 days of the close of the fiscal year on June 30. That would be Nov. 28. Glancing at the last 20 reports, this deadline is met about half the time: Delivery dates range from Oct. 30 to Jan. 30. But, barring unforeseen lunacy, the annual report won’t be released this year until well into March.

Using numbers gleaned from the city, the IFPTE Local 21 claims San Francisco has undershot its revenue projections by billions over the years. This is why the certainty of a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is desired. Of note, the city this week revised its projections since only December to add $79.8 million in revenue.

And that’s doubly significant because there are, at the moment, no fewer than 29 outstanding union contracts to negotiate. Not only are the unions getting a late start on receiving the city’s baseline numbers, the Charter also mandates they finalize contract negotiations by May 15 — or else the unionized workers are locked out of receiving a raise.

“It’s just outrageous. This is already a very expedited bargaining session,” says John Stead-Mendez, the executive director of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021. “The CAFR is a core piece of information that drives the discussion.”

In San Francisco, Stead-Mendez continues, facts matter: A great deal of union bargaining sessions end up in the hands of a third-party arbiter.

“In most instances, things end when an arbitrator takes a look at several enumerated factors, one of them being ‘ability to pay,’” Stead-Mendez says. And the annual report is, by and large, the determinant of that ability.

Without this information on hand to formulate his arguments, and with a hard-and-fast May 15 deadline looming, Stead-Mendez says city workers are being squeezed from both ends.

“We will argue we were not given the time we needed,” he says. “We will argue to the arbitrator not to hold this against us, and they ought to hold it against the city.”

San Francisco’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports are due on Nov. 28. That deadline is met roughly half the time. But, even when the report is delivered late, it has never been this late: As of Feb. 19, Controller Ben Rosenfield says breaking in a new software system leaves him hoping it’ll be ready within several weeks.