By Steven T. Jones
The rancorous debate over providing health care to all San Franciscans finally comes to the Board of Supervisors for a vote tomorrow, culminating a truly ugly political spectacle. The business community has aggressively gone after the measure’s sponsor, Tom Ammiano, angrily accusing him of not listening and not caring.
Now, it’s understandable that some small business people on the verge of going under would be upset about having to give health coverage to their employees. It’s a legitimate concern, but it’s also a valid point that Ammiano’s measure makes: providing a living wage and health coverage to employees is a reasonable cost of doing business in this city, and if you can’t afford to do these things, then your business plan doesn’t really pencil out, sorry.
This might have been a good political debate to have, but unfortunately, the issue has been sullied and convoluted by the intentional deceptions of a few downtown groups (notably the Committee on Jobs, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce), distorted and inaccurate presentations of the issue by the Chronicle and Examiner, and the political cowardice of Mayor Gavin Newsom.
If you’ve been reading the Guardian then you know that the “Newsom plan” was simply one component of the “Ammiano plan,” not the workable stand-alone plan that the dailies and business elites tried to present it as (by itself, Newsom’s plan didn’t pay for itself and it threatened to make the number of uninsured in the city grow by providing the perverse incentive for businesses to drop their employees’ health insurance in favor of cheaper but less comprehensive access to city clinics). Even the dailies finally got around to saying the two plans relied on one another last week after playing up the deceptive competition for weeks.
Here’s the bottom line: Ammiano’s plan got eight co-sponsors because it was an honest attempt to deal with a serious problem using an approach (employer mandates) popular with most citizens (as shown by 69 percent of the people voting for a statewide mandate in Prop. 72). But downtown has done nothing but obstruct and obfuscate the issue. And they’re loud and have tons of money, so they’ve managed to bring out Newsom’s most cowardly instincts and they’ve cowed the media into bearing false witness to what’s going on.
Will they also peel off a supervisor or two who have already pledged their support? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.