Editorial: Stop overburdening businesses

The importance of businesses to the vitality of our city is routinely paid lip service by local politicians. In reality, however, many of City Hall’s elected officials treat the business community less as an integral part of our city and more like a cash cow to be milked at every opportunity.

A recent proposal to charge San Francisco businesses a new $39 annual fee is just the latest example of City Hall’s seemingly boundless enthusiasm for dipping into the pockets of local merchants whenever a new supply ofrevenue is needed.

The fee, which would apply to more than 31,000 businesses in San Francisco and cost local merchants a total of $1.3 million a year, would go toward enforcement of The City’s minimum wage rules, which require an hourly rate of at least $8.82 per hour for every employee.

Supporters of the proposal argue that the extra enforcement is needed because some employers try to skirt the law by underpaying workers. While such instances certainly occur, a blanket fee on all businesses would simply penalize the vast majority of businessespeople who are law-abiding and treat their workers fairly.

It makes more sense to go after the scofflaws and increase the penalties for those employers found to be breaking the law.

The latest attempt to penalize hardworking local businesspeople comes down to lack of planning by city officials.

In 2003 the city controller predicted it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to police the new minimum wage law, so Board of Supervisors members were warned about the potential costs. But they made no plans to cover those costs, and the latest attempted grab from merchants smacks of the easiest, quickest solution for City Hall, no matter how unfair.

In the November 2003 election that instituted The City’s minimum-wage law, five members of the Board of Supervisors — including Sophie Maxwell, the driving force behind the $39 annual fee proposal on businesses — submitted a ballot argument in favor of the law in the Voter Information Pamphlet: “Increasing the minimum wage would not only benefit low-wage workers and their families, but also the additional spending power will support neighborhood businesses … stimulating the local economy!!”

City Hall has a funny way of supporting neighborhood businesses. The $39 annual fee proposal should go back to the drawing board until other, less scattershot approaches are given full consideration.

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