Hey mayoral candidates, how about tackling tax reform?
Gavin Newsom rode into the Mayor's Office with a campaign to take welfare money away from homeless people. Jeff Adachi's campaign for mayor is fueled by his attempt to cut city-employee pension costs. It's an effective tactic: You put an initiative on the ballot and campaign as its sponsor, with your name attached — and while direct fundraising for mayoral candidates is tightly restricted (contribution limits, no corporate money), ballot-measure campaigns can collect unlimited cash, from almost anyone. Pick a popular issue (and attacking homeless people and city workers seems to have a lot of traction these days) and your chances of getting elected get a nice boost.
So why has no candidate running for citywide office in San Francisco ever made tax reform the center of his or her campaign?
I realize that tax reform is boring. Slogans like "shared progressive values" and words like "together" play much better in the focus groups. But think about it: Nearly every major national poll shows that the voters — by a margin of roughly 2-1 — think that tax increases should be part of the solution to the nation's budget woes. Since San Francisco is way more liberal than the nation as a whole, the margin in this city is probably about 3-1.
Naturally, the poll numbers depend on how you ask the question, so let me suggest a way to frame it that's entirely honest and consistent with what I suspect most the voters in this city believe. "Since 400 American families now own more wealth than 50 percent of the entire population put together, should San Francisco's budget problems be solved in part with higher taxes on very rich residents and businesses?"
You might actually get 90 percent support on that one.
Look: Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world, recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying that his class isn't paying its fair share. Warren Hellman, one of the richest people in San Francisco, told me the same thing a couple of months ago. (In 2006, in a particularly revealing interview, Buffett told economics writer Ben Stein that "there's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning.") This is mainstream stuff now.
And I know some of the candidates, particularly Sup. John Avalos, support new taxes on the wealthy, and Assessor Phil Ting wants to repeal parts of Prop. 13. But nobody has ever made this a signature issue. Nobody's ever made taxing the rich his or her version of Care Not Cash. I'm thinking maybe it's time.