Budget fixes up for debate

Despite criticism and strong resistance, two revenue ideas announced by Mayor Gavin Newsom last year will take center stage in the new year: a condo conversion fee and selling permits to drive taxis.

The two proposals, which could generate tens of millions of dollars, return for debate as The City faces its second consecutive fiscal year with a $500 million-plus deficit.

The Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors is expected to hold a hearing on the taxi medallion proposal as early as the first week of January.

San Francisco’s 1,500 medallions, which are required to operate a cab, would be sold by The City under the proposal. Currently, drivers must wait years to obtain a medallion, and they are generally in the hands of older drivers who lease them out to others.

Critics say the new plan would price out existing, hard-working drivers and only benefit cab companies. To quell those fears, the transit agency held meetings and attempted to hash out a plan that could gain support among the industry’s diverse stakeholders. Details are expected to be released early next month. The transit agency budgeted about $7.5 million for the current fiscal year in anticipation of approval.

Newsom spokesman Brian Purchia said the mayor appreciates the transit agency’s hard work.

“These changes can improve customer service while creating a system that is fair for cab drivers and medallion owners,” Purchia said.

“Consensus will never be universal, but the ongoing process is very inclusive, and we’re optimistic that taxi reform will happen,” transit agency spokesman Judson True said.

Last week, Newsom said in January he will send the Board of Supervisors legislation to establish a condo conversion fee. It would allow someone to pay to convert a living unit into a condo, which allows for ownership, instead of having to wait years to be selected in a lottery process. Critics say this would lead to more evictions and reduce the rental housing stock.

Both proposals were met with criticism and strong resistance when the mayor announced them as part of his plan to balance The City’s budget last fiscal year. He’s now trying again. The proposals are in line with Newsom’s budget message that The City needs to look for other options to generate revenue instead of tax increases.

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