Ethical questions are being raised about using public funds for a voter poll that shows general-tax revenue measures would fail in November.
The survey, which is estimated to have cost $20,000, was paid for by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, an agency that administers half-cent local transportation sales tax revenue for transit-related projects and services, such as Muni. The authority is overseen by a group that consists of all 11 city supervisors, with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi serving as chairman.
Oakland-based EMC Research conducted a telephone survey of 510 registered voters between July 1 and July 6.
The Board of Supervisors could vote today to place three tax measures on the November ballot. They would be a tax hike on the sale of multimillion-dollar properties, a 10 percent increase on the parking tax and an overhaul of the way The City taxes business, which includes the creation of a gross-receipts tax on commercial rents.
The poll shows none of the proposed tax measures would pass, with one polling as low as 24 percent, but sponsors of the measures dismissed the results as being flawed.
“This ill-advised and poorly written poll didn’t tell us anything new,” Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said. “We look forward to explaining to voters how business tax reform will create jobs and preserve critical services like Muni and public safety.”
The use of TA funding to pay for polling about the tax measures was blasted by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.
“This is a gift of public funds for political purposes. I think the city attorney needs to provide an opinion on this,” Elsbernd said. “This is unbelievable.”
The TA disagreed.
“It’s a perfectly legitimate use of the money,” said Executive Director Jose Luis Moscovich, who said the survey was focused on the vehicle license fee, which the TA board is voting on today.
The transit group has its own legal counsel. The city attorney has not advised the TA on the matter. City departments may use city resources to conduct surveys or polls as part of the process of drafting a measure or deciding whether to submit one to voters, but they may not do so once the measure is finalized.
“I can understand potentially polling the vehicle license fee,” Elsbernd said.
With questions raised about using transit funds for the tax polling, Mirkarimi, who authorized the poll, according to TA documents, said, “I would sponsor a policy that says this should not happen again.”