Teachers, students and supporters of City College gather signatures on the steps of San Francisco City Hall during a rally calling for higher wages and free college. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

CCSF may return to being free after three decades

City College of San Francisco was last free in 1983. Now, three decades later, the higher learning institution may offer free education once again.

That prospect hinges upon support from the Board of Supervisors for Supervisor Jane Kim’s package of legislation, and ultimately voter approval in November, of a higher tax on San Francisco’s property sales exceeding $5 million.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee voted 4-1 Wednesday to send the proposal to the full board for a vote, which could occur July 11. If approved by the board, the tax measure would go before voters in November.

Supervisor Mark Farrell opposed the proposal.

“Free City College is something I would love to support,” Farrell said. “This needs to be taken, however, in the context of our larger budget as a city.”

But Kim argued that making CCSF free is contingent on new revenue and that the board would have to vote annually whether to allocate the revenue from the tax for a free City College. The board could technically use the money for other purposes since it’s a general tax measure.

The proposal is expected to provide some 20,000 students, including seniors and parents, with free education at CCSF and cost about $13 million annually. If City College is free, enrollment could increase by at least 10 percent.

To generate the funding, Kim has proposed an increase in the property transfer sales tax of properties valued more than $5 million.

Among the proposal’s supporters is Supervisor Norman Yee, who himself benefitted from a free City College. “Back then when I was getting out of high school, the City College was free. It helped me immensely,” Yee said.

The tax would generate an average of $44 million annually, according to Ted Egan, chief economist with the City Controller’s Office. Eighty percent of the revenue would come from properties that sell for more than $25 million. Most of the tax revenue would come from the sale of downtown office buildings.

The committee also approved a resolution introduced by Kim that puts the board on record saying it intends use the new tax revenue for making City College free. Kim also plans to introduce legislation to create a special fund where the tax revenues would collect.

“Education, as all of us know, is the key to upward mobility, financial stability and the tool we know works to help low-income wage workers increase their earning potential,” Kim said.

The proposed tax measure would change the property transfer tax rate for property sales between $5 million and $10 million from 2 percent to 2.25 percent, for sales between $10 million up to $25 million from 2.5 percent to 2.75 percent, and for sales of at least $25 million from 2.5 percent to 3 percent.

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