Compromise measures - Page 3

Housing and business tax propositions don't solve the city's problems, but both sides say they're the best we can expect

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A pair of fall ballot measures would spur affordable housing development in San Francisco.
PHOTO BY MIKE KOOZMIN/SF NEWSPAPER CO.

The report that Campos requested, which came out in the late afternoon before the next day's hearing, agreed that it would stabilize business tax revenue, but it raised concerns that some small businesses exempt from the payroll tax would pay more under the proposal and that it would create big winners and losers compared to the current system.

For example, it calculated that between the gross receipts tax and business license fee, a sample full service restaurant would pay 69 percent less taxes and a supermarket 33 percent less taxes, while a commercial real estate leasing firm would pay 46.7 percent more tax and a large engineering firm would see its business tax bills more than double.

Board President David Chiu, who has co-sponsored the business tax reform measure with Mayor Lee since its inception, agreed that it is a "once in a decade reform," calling it a "compromise that reflects the best sense of that word." And that view, that this is the best compromise city residents can expect, seems to be shared by leaders of various stripes.

 

BACKING THE COMPROMISE

The business community and fiscally conservative politicians have long called for the replacement of the city payroll tax — which they deride as a "job killer" because it uses labor costs to gauge the size of company's size and ability to pay taxes — with a gross receipts tax that uses a different gauge. But the devil has been in the details.

Chiu praised the "dozens and dozens and dozens of companies that have worked with us to fine-tune this measure," and press reports indicate that representatives of major corporations and economic sectors have all spent hours in the closed door meetings shaping the complicated formulas for how they will be taxed, which vary by industry.

When the Guardian made a Sunshine Ordinance request to the Mayor's Office for a list of all the business representatives that have been involved in the meetings, its spokespersons said no such list exists. They have also asked for a time extension in our request to review all documents associated with the deliberations, delaying the review until next week at the earliest, after the board approves the measure.

But the business community seems to be on board, even though some economic sectors — including real estate firms and big construction companies — are expected to face tax hikes.

"The general reaction has been neutral to favorable, and I expect we'll be supportive," Jim Lazarus, the vice president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, who participated in crafting the proposal but who said the Chamber won't have an official position until it votes later this week.

Lazarus noted the precipitous rise in annual business license fees — the top rate for the largest companies would go from just $500 now to $35,000 under the proposal, going up even more in the future as the Consumer Price Index rises — "but some of it will be offset by a drop in the payroll tax," Lazarus said.

He also admitted that the new tax system will be "hugely complicated" compared to the payroll tax, with complex formulas that differ by sector and where economic transactions take place. But he said the Chamber has long supported the switch and he was happy to see a compromise.

"I'm assuming it will pass. I don't believe there will be any major organized opposition to the measure," Lazarus said.

Labor and progressive leaders also say the measure — which exempts small businesses with less than $1 million in revenue and has a steeply progressive business license fee scale — is a good proposal worth supporting, even if they didn't get everything they wanted.