It's hard for California cities to raise taxes. Almost anything that amounts to a tax hike has to go before the voters, and most of the time, it requires a two-thirds vote.
But in a year when the local legislators are also up for election — and six of the supervisorial districts are up this fall — the voters can pass taxes with a simple majority.
That's one reason that 2012 is a perfect year for tax reform in San Francisco. The other is the spirit of Occupy.
The tent-city protests changed the political dynamics all over the country, putting the message of economic injustice on the agenda and on the front pages. That's even more true in this city, which was one of the epicenters of the national movement.
Mayor Ed Lee announced in his inauguration speech that he's going to be the mayor "of the 100 percent," an effort to preach the message that we're all good pals and we all love each other here in this great city of ours, but the truth is we aren't, and we don't. The very rich in San Francisco not only have little in common with the rest of us; for the most part, they like it that way. The biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals have an interest in preserving economic injustice, and they've shown repeatedly that they will go to great lengths to prevent progressive change.
San Francisco needs to change the way it raises revenue, and one of the key elements of that is the local business tax. Right now it's a flat tax on payroll, and a lot of people (including me) don't like it. So there's movement for a new type of tax, maybe on gross receipts.
That's fine — but it has to be more than a shift in how taxes are determined. San Francisco desperately needs more money — probably at least $250 million a year — to balance the budget without further cuts and to make up for what the state and federal government have taken away. And a new business tax needs to be progressive — to hit the biggest and the richest harder than the small and struggling.
I fear the mayor is not going to be pushing that kind of agenda, so someone on the board has to do it. This is the year that a "tax the one percent" measure can win. But we need to get started now.