Too many taxes headed to November ballot

The scrambling to propose measures for the November ballot is over, and it looks like voters might face one of the longest ballots in memory.

That crowded ballot will give voters the chance to weigh in on several tax and bond measures that could increase the financial burden on residents and businesses. We recognize there is a delicate balance between preserving and improving services and infrastructure to keep our city great, while putting undue financial pressure on our community. One thing we do know is employers are already paying their fair share, as proven by the $671 million in business tax collection forecast in The City’s 2016-17 budget — an increase of 50 percent in just four years.

Here’s a preview of some of the tax and bond measures that could be on your ballot this November.

Tech tax: According to this proposal, many technology companies would pay an additional 1.5 percent payroll tax to fund homeless and housing services, on top of the business taxes they already pay. In 2012, voters reformed our entire tax structure from a payroll tax to gross receipts in order to incentivize companies to stay in San Francisco. Blaming one industry won’t solve our city’s affordability crisis, but rather will drive employers out of The City, cut jobs and turn back the progress we’ve made.

Transfer tax: Dubbed the “Mansion Tax,” this measure would actually hit commercial real estate and small business tenants the hardest by increasing the transfer tax for both commercial and residential property sales valued at $5 million to 2.25 percent. Property sales valued at more than $25 million would be hit with a 3 percent transfer tax.

BART bond: Since its construction in the late 1960s and mid-1970s, BART hasn’t invested significant funds into upgrading the core system. This $3.5 billion General Obligation Bond would fund the repair and replacement of critical safety infrastructure like track power and train control systems and station congestion relief and safety. What does it mean? San Francisco homeowners with a home assessed at $600,000 will see property taxes increase from $30 to $100 a year over the 40-year life of the bond program.

Street tree parcel tax: The measure would require The City to assume responsibility for all street trees — tree maintenance, sidewalk damage and liability — by providing a long-term dedicated funding source with a progressive parcel tax on condos, single-family homes and commercial property owners based on the amount of frontage.

Soda tax: This measure imposes a tax of one-cent per ounce on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages. The tax could be passed through in the pricing of all grocery or food products, not merely beverages. Because the money would be allocated to the General Fund, it wouldn’t be set aside for a specific health purpose and only requires a simple majority to pass.

Sales tax: The proposed three quarter cent general tax increases the local sales tax rate by spring of next year to 9.25 percent. A companion charter amendment will divide the proceeds with a one-quarter cent funding homeless services and supportive housing and one-half cent for transportation services including funding for Muni, BART, pedestrian safety and road repaving.

These are just a sampling of the measures that could be headed for the November ballot, not including other taxes that are currently being discussed including a Utility Users Tax, the largest ever San Francisco Unified School District school bond proposal and a City College of San Francisco parcel tax.

The Chamber will continue to actively support and oppose key initiatives impacting local businesses and the economy. There will be significant opposition to many of these tax measures, as new revenue must be tied to real reform in the setting of wages and benefits for workers and supporting the growth of business to anchor our city.

Lee Blitch is interim president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

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