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Insiders Admit That the Proposed 'Tech Tax' Isn't Actually Plausible—It's Political Payback

Also: It's doomed.

 Payback is a bitch...


You may have read in the Chronicle this morning about three progressive supervisors' cunning plan to put a measure on the November ballot that would tax tech companies, and then use the proceeds to benefit homeless services and affordable housing. It's a complex proposal—but don't even bother trying to understand it. According to multiple progressives with knowledge of the supes' strategy, it's not so much piece of legislation as a political middle finger raised at rival moderates on the board.

Getting this measure—which was championed by Supervisor Eric Mar and co-sponsored by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and David Campos—onto the ballot would require the assent of six supervisors. Had Mar and Co. gotten their act together before June 21, it would only have required four supervisors to make the cut for November. Six supervisors, we are told, will all but certainly not support this measure. Barring unforeseen lunacy, San Franciscans will not be voting on this. 

And yet, even if we were to vote on it, the measure as written would require approval from two-thirds of the electorate. Pollsters have confirmed that tech companies evoke strong feelings in San Francisco voters, many of whom doubt they're "paying their fair share." But you would have an easier time talking the Giants into painting AT&T Park’s foul poles Dodger blue than getting 66.7 percent of San Franciscans to support this particular tax. So, if you’re keeping score, a measure that won’t be getting on the ballot is written in a manner that would doom it to certain electoral defeat—and missed a crucial submission deadline to boot. This is an odd way to govern a city. What’s the goal here, again? 

“The goal,” says a city insider privy to the tech tax backers’ strategy (or lack thereof), “was to get that story into the Chronicle this morning.” Delving into the minutiae of the proposal—what constitutes a “tech” company; why a “tech” company that entices an entitled, gentrifying, Dolores Park–trashing employee to the city should be taxed more punitively than any other company doing this; why voters would want to reinstitute a payroll tax after they already voted to eliminate it just a few years ago—is a loser’s game. Don’t worry about all that: no one will ever have to work this stuff out. Because this isn’t government—it’s politics. 

Even earlier this month, San Francisco has learned, the supporters of the tech tax had no real inclination to propel it onto November’s ludicrously crowded ballot. What changed? Well, Supervisor Mark Farrell submitted a highly divisive ballot measure giving the city more leverage to break down tent encampments. This was seen as a nakedly political move by the consortium of homeless advocates, affordable housing backers, and workers’ rights activists who had been toying with the notion of a tech tax. So, the tax—which, we're told, is the brainchild of Jobs with Justice executive director Gordon Mar, twin brother of Eric—was revived, introduced, and floated in the press. And then what? 

“Nothing,” says a longtime city player. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. They got a good newspaper headline out of it and they made Mark Farrell look like a heartless bully who’s standing up for the tech industry while attacking the homeless.”

In summation, the entire narrative of why this tax was introduced can be summed up as follows: “F--k me? No, f--k you!”

But just because this legislation isn’t going anywhere doesn’t mean the animus underlying it is going away. “It’s going to start a conversation,” says a supportive City Hall denizen, “that’ll be hanging around for the next few years.” 

And what a next few years it figures to be. 


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