What Biden’s Build Back Better bill would mean for San Franciscans

Not much compared to other places — because The City already provides several key features

Imagine an upside-down, bizarro world in which Nancy Pelosi complains that the Democrats’ Build Back Better bill is too ambitious, and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin insists more be spent on children.

Unthinkable. About as likely as Joe Biden winning the Bay to Breakers or Donald Trump copping to his failures. Yet anyone who didn’t know better might look at Pelosi and Manchin’s constituents and conclude it makes perfect sense.

It is impossible to know, with any specificity, who would benefit most from the $3.5 trillion measure, the most robust social spending legislation in a generation and treated in Washington as the defining moment of the Biden presidency. Major elements are still being negotiated behind closed doors, with Pelosi and Manchin as key players.

But it is almost certain, from the details that have emerged, that San Franciscans will receive a far smaller piece of the pie than the typical West Virginian.

Among the measure’s key features are free community college, subsidized preschool and a guarantee of paid family leave. That would be transformational for most Americans.

San Franciscans already have those. City College is tuition-free for all San Francisco residents. The Preschool for All Tuition Credit Program provides daycare subsidies regardless of income. And since July, most workers employed in The City are guaranteed at least eight weeks of paid family leave. Federal subsidies might expand coverage and relieve the financial burden on The City and employers. But it would not be the sea change in San Francisco that it would be for most of the country.

Other benefits include an expansion of Medicare to cover visits to dentists and eye doctors. That would be of enormous benefit to at least 135,000 elderly San Franciscans. However, San Francisco is a young city, with roughly 10% less Medicare-age residents than the national average.

The measure’s biggest expenditures are for children, including an extension of the child tax credit that was adopted temporarily earlier this year. The credit provides as much as $3,600 in tax relief for every dependent child, reducing the nation’s child poverty rate by 40%. Thousands of San Francisco families have benefited and would welcome a 10-year extension.

But while San Francisco is a young city, it has fewer families than most. The latest census shows The City’s under-18 population is 40% smaller than the national average.

Democrats insist that this will not add to the deficit, because all extra costs will be paid for by taxing the rich — those who earn more than $400,000.

“Not one single penny in tax would go against anyone making less than four hundred grand,’’ Biden said Thursday at a town hall in Baltimore.

And where do those people live? An awful lot live in San Francisco. Only New York and Hong Kong have more billionaires. San Francisco’s $123,859 median household income is the highest of any major American city.

So where do people live who would get disproportionately more from “Build Back Better.’’ Well, West Virginia.

West Virginians, even with a break for being in-state, pay an average of $3,610 per year for community college tuition. West Virginia has been a leader in providing access to free pre-K. But while government employees receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, there is nothing compelling private companies to offer their workers the same.

Expanded Medicare services? More than one in five West Virginians would be eligible, 33% more than the national average. Tax credits? With a population roughly twice that of San Francisco, four times as many West Virginians file for the child tax credit than San Franciscans.

How about taxing the rich? Kiplinger’s ranked each state by its millionaire population. West Virginia came in 50th. While IRS data shows that one out of seven San Francisco returns reported taxable income above $200,000, in West Virginia it was one out of 44.

Some provisions would have hit West Virginia hard. The coal mine rich state would sacrifice far more than San Francisco, if subsidies for renewable energy were enacted. But it appears that Manchin has prevailed in eliminating those.

Manchin reacted angrily when Sen. Bernie Sanders published an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail arguing that overall, the bill was good for West Virginians.

“This isn’t the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them despite having no relationship to our state,’’ he said, complaining about the Democrats’ tendency to throw money at problems.

What’s not clear is whether his constituents understand that the money is being thrown in their direction.

San Franciscans regularly embrace federal spending on education, health care and children, even if they are not the primary beneficiaries. Not so in West Virginia, where polls show that three times as many voters identify as conservative than liberal.

It is a pattern seen from coast to coast. Of the 30 senators representing the nation’s poorest states, just four support the bill. Of the 30 senators representing the nation’s richest, just four oppose it.

Bizarro world, indeed.

Marc Sandalow is associate director of the University of California’s Washington Program. He has been writing about California politics from Washington for nearly 30 years.

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