Without a net - Page 2

Newsom's budget: More hungry homeless people, more deaths at SF General

"I'm sorry to say it, but you have some tough decisions in front of you," Friedenbach told supervisors when it was her turn at the podium during public comment. "You have to choose between abused children, or the symphony. You have to choose whether you want to decimate the mental-health treatment system — or do you want to get rid of the newly hired managers since the hiring freeze? You have to decide whether you want to cut half of the substance-abuse treatment system — or do you want to create a new community justice center that will have nowhere to refer its defendants?" Rather than choose, however, supervisors voted 6–5 to send Daly's alternative package back to the Budget and Finance Committee for further consideration. The swing vote was Board President David Chiu, who was elected president with the support of the progressive bloc.

Had Chiu voted for Daly's alternative, it wouldn't have mattered much — the mayor would almost certainly have vetoed it.

Eight supervisors — enough to override a veto — did demonstrate a willingness to move forward with a June special election. With Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Carmen Chu dissenting, the board voted to waive deadlines that would have prevented new tax measures from being placed on a June 2 ballot.

Several different tax ideas are under discussion. According to a list of preliminary estimates calculated by the Office of the Controller, slight increases over the current rates of taxes levied on business registration, payroll, sales, hotel-room stays, commercial utility users, parking, property transfers, and Access Line fees together could bring the city an estimated $121.6 million per year.

Other proposals include creating parcel taxes for both residential and industrial property, gross-receipts taxes on rental income for commercial and residential properties, a local vehicle license fee, and a residential utility users tax. If all of those proposed new taxes were voted into effect, the city would have the potential to raise an additional $112.9 million.

The problem: under state law, unless the mayor and supervisors unanimously declare an emergency, any tax increase would require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Supervisor John Avalos voiced strong support for the special election. "I think that the people of this city are still grappling with the meaning of the crisis that we're in," Avalos told his colleagues.

Avalos amended out the possible new parcel tax, increased parking tax, and utility-users taxes, and instead proposed two new revenue measures that could be added to the ballot: a vehicle-impact fee, and "a possible new tax to discourage the consumption of energy that produces a large carbon footprint."

It won't be easy to pass any of these proposals. Business interests are mobilizing against the very idea of a special election. In an e-mail newsletter distributed by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, a "call to action" urged supporters to contact Supervisors and voice opposition to the emergency election.

The language in the Chamber of Commerce message closely resembled that of Small Business California, which put out a message to the small-business community warning that higher taxes "would be the straw that breaks the already strained back of our local businesses, resulting in more layoffs and acceleration of our downward spiral."

Labor organizer Robert Haaland asked supervisors why they would be afraid of allowing voters to decide on the tax-revenue measures. A poll commissioned by his union, SEIU Local 1021, demonstrated that a significant portion of voters would rather raise revenues than allow vital services to disintegrate.

Even if new revenue is raised, Haaland told us, no one is under the illusion that there won't be painful cuts. "Everyone's going to feel some pain," he said.

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