Fair is Fair: Yes on Prop N

by Gail Gilman & Debbi Lerman on October 29, 2010

Over the last three years San Franciscans have seen their municipal budget cut by over $1 billion. San Francisco cannot solve its current and continuing budget shortfalls by cuts alone. Service cuts to MUNI, for example, the deepest in its history, have already resulted in sharp declines in ridership, indicating that the “cross over” point has been reached in which more cuts may mean rapid collapse of the service. The same is true in public health, parks and recreation, public education and the library. We must look at an increase in revenue. Especially if that increase is carefully aimed at those doing very well in the current economic climate.

Proposition N would increase revenue by raising the transfer tax on sales of real estate which exceed $5 million. The Controller estimates that, if passed, it would raise about $36 million a year, on average. The overwhelming number of real estate transactions of more than $5 million are commercial properties and not single family homes. The proposed tax would then fall squarely on the business sector, and that’s why the Chamber of Commerce and the Realtors make their usual arguments that N will drive businesses out of San Francisco and thus cost jobs.

But what we face is not usual, and the usual arguments should be rejected.

We are facing the demise of a vital and effective public service sector that is critical to the economic future of a city as densely and diversely populated as ours. San Francisco’s future is our people, and people depend upon a critical mass of urban services (MUNI, schools, parks, libraries and health care) that can best be provided by the public sector. Once dismantled, such services are prohibitively expensive to rebuild and people dependent upon them are grievously harmed. It would be unseemly, un-San Franciscan, for our wealthy City to inflict such damage upon itself

And lets be clear about our wealth. We are a very wealthy city. The Chronicle has reported that in the second quarter of this year, just two large commercial property owners in our city- Wells Fargo and Chevron- reported combined “net earnings” of $8.5 billion. During the same three month period, Chronicle writer Andrew Ross reported that venture capitalists have “poured” some $525 million into startups in San Francisco. Based upon the history of the Dot Com bust, we know that a huge amount of that money ends up in commercial real estate. What we have cut in three years of pain from our local budget, these commercial players made nine fold in just three months in our City.

Oil and the high tech sector are heavily subsidized at the federal level, and we all paid to bail out Wells Fargo. Each use our streets, sewers, and water and each depend upon our emergency services to protect their holdings. Proposition N will even out the breaks these folks got at the national level, and direct funds we all need at services they use along with us. Fair is Fair, and Proposition N is fair.

Gail Gilman is the Executive Director of Community Housing Partnership and Debbi Lerman is the Administrator of the San Francisco Human Services Network.

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