Garcia: City voters send loud, clear message on tax measures

It’s no secret that San Francisco’s tax-happy supervisors love to spend our money like drunken sailors, but a few days ago they received some sobering news.

City voters are adamantly opposed to new general-tax proposals, the very kind the board is considering today for the November ballot.

So the only question now is if the majority of supervisors are cynical enough to push the measures — at considerable taxpayer expense — knowing full well that they will fail.

This news comes to us courtesy of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which on Monday released the findings of a poll it commissioned primarily to see if there is support for a local $10 vehicle license fee to support city transportation projects.

As part of the survey to gauge backing for the license fee in relation to other proposed tax measures, the authority polled voters on their feelings about a 10 percent parking tax hike, a property transfer tax and another new levy on gross receipts.

And most of you will be happy to know there is wide support for the transportation-backed vehicle license fee, nearly 65 percent. Every other tax measure, however, tanked, most barely detecting an elective pulse. The gross-receipts tax was only supported by 24 percent of those surveyed, while 55 percent of the respondents said they would reject another property transfer tax. The proposed parking tax received similar results.

San Francisco is not in a tax-supporting mood. And it will be hard for supervisors to ignore the findings because the Transportation Authority is actually governed by the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors and is chaired by Ross Mirkarimi, who just happens to be pushing for the parking tax hike.

So in case they don’t have time to read long documents, I’ll summarize the report for them: Nearly 50 percent of voters polled said they would vote against any tax measures, regardless of their name, rank or serial number. They feel a lot more inclined to support revenue-specific plans such as the license fee, since they want improvements to The City’s transportation system.

But general-fund taxes that give supervisors more money to spend on their pet projects, nonprofit cronies and the general bloated structure we call city government? Not in any way, shape or formula.

“Proposing tax measures without specifying how the revenue will be spent produces high levels of opposition,” the report by EMC Research said after polling likely voters during the first week of July.

Word is that some of the supervisors pushing the tax proposals are none too happy with the findings, even more so since the report was done by a city agency over which they preside. There has been some internal bickering even about how it was green-lighted.

“The only accurate way to measure support for a vehicle license fee was to test it against other revenue measures being proposed for the ballot,” said Jose Luis Moscovich, executive director of the Transportation Authority. “Our main goal was to provide a realistic context for the license fee measure.”

The bottom line is that the board now has real data on the voters’ mood for giving more of their hard-earned money to San Francisco’s fat-cat $6.5 billion budget. They’re willing to spend $10 to fix roads and public transit, but not a dime to add to the general fund. Even a hotel tax measure, which qualified through signature-gathering and is being pushed by a shaky coalition of unions, looks headed for defeat, with only 42 percent of voters saying they support it.

For the tax-and-spend merchants on the board, it’s bad news and there’s no other way to spin it. They could argue that with a campaign behind them, support for some tax measures could increase. Yet at the same time, the mayor and some major corporate groups have already said they would work to defeat any new taxes.

The poll numbers show the measures are on life support. Throwing them on the ballot now would be reckless and costly. They can’t be saved. The supervisors are going to have to move to Plan B to grab money — if only they had one.

Ken Garcia appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Examiner. Check out his blog at or e-mail him at

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