Taxing choices on the November ballot

San Franciscans will start weighing in on education, taxes and other critical issues next week when absentee and vote-by-mail ballots start arriving in mailboxes across The City. And with 18 state and local measures, this year’s election presents a lengthy list of complex — and significant — choices that will have a lasting impact on the economy and the quality of life for city residents.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney may be the national focus, but here in San Francisco taxes are the top issue for most voters. From statewide temporary sales and income tax increases to local business tax reform, the November ballot includes a litany of choices that will likely cause many to shudder.

As a Chamber of Commerce, we embrace the ideals of free enterprise. We resist onerous regulations and advocate fiscal prudence and accountability. At the same time, we recognize the enormous importance of our public education system on our workforce and economy. After years of chronic budget deficits, we also are highly concerned with the state’s broken budget system that is failing California.

For these reasons, the chamber is putting its support behind Proposition 30 (the statewide temporary tax increase) and opposing Proposition 38 (the state income tax increase initiative). While both measures will raise taxes for many Californians, Prop. 30 is shorter in duration and is more broadly based. Unlike Prop. 38, which earmarks revenue for K-12 education only, Prop. 30 will generate up to $9 billion a year for K-12 and higher education, along with invest in public safety and much-needed deficit reduction. At a time when voters must consider multiple, competing tax measures, Prop. 30 is the wiser choice.

As a champion of economic growth in San Francisco, the chamber is supporting Proposition E, the business tax reform measure that will phase out The City’s payroll tax and replace it with a progressive tax on gross receipts.

Placed on the ballot by Mayor Ed Lee and all 11 supervisors with extensive input from the business community, the measure will raise new revenue for The City by adjusting the business license fee, which has not changed in more than 30 years.

San Francisco’s current payroll tax is a direct tax on jobs. This perverse incentive is not only a deterrent to local hiring, it also puts our city at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting new businesses and jobs, especially from rapidly growing companies.

While transitioning to a gross receipts tax will affect more businesses, it does so in a fair manner and will give some a small tax reduction. Prop. E is estimated to create more than 1,750 new jobs annually and will generate
$28.5 million in new revenue for housing, infrastructure and economic development.

For many San Franciscans, the upcoming election will provide unwelcome trade-offs with direct consequences. While these choices are unpleasant, the results can help put our city and state on a path toward lasting budget stability and economic growth. The chamber urges everyone to read up on the issues and vote Nov. 6.  

Steve Falk is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

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