June 2 special election gets a green light

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By Rebecca Bowe

On Feb. 3, the Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to adopt a resolution calling for a municipal special election on June 2, setting the stage for an epic ballot battle over budget choices.

With Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd dissenting, the board approved the election, which will ask voters to decide on new tax measures in an effort to raise city revenues.

The election was proposed as a partial solution to the city's looming $576 million budget deficit for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi described as a "tsunami ... that the city is being hit by." The cuts will deliver painful blows across the board, affecting citywide health and human service programs in particular. At last week's meeting, hundreds turned out to express concern about how deep cuts will leave some of the city's most vulnerable populations at risk.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty took a stand in favor of the special election, and warned against slamming the door to possible new revenue sources that could soften the blow. "If you can't go to a rec center, if you can't get employment assistance, if we're not providing the advocacy to make sure that [single room occupancies] are kept in a habitable manner, you will start to see the wheels coming off this city," Dufty said. "I believe the business community knows that we cannot decimate city government and have a city that's going to be attractive to business. If you gut this city government, this city is not going to look the same next year or over the next two years."

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, on the other hand, voiced concern that the election measure was being pushed through too quickly, saying, "I think this is a big mistake." Elsbernd mentioned that he had received hundreds of emails expressing concern about the emergency measure and noted that it is still to early to tell whether Sacramento will set up a statewide special election to raise revenues.

And already, the Chamber of Commerce is gearing up to fight any new taxes -- meaning that progressive groups, particularly labor, will have to raise and spend a significant sum to convince two-thirds of the voters to accept the plan.

The revenue measures that would actually appear on the ballot are still being hammered out. Supervisor John Avalos and Supervisor Mirkarimi each introduced possible new measures that could be added to the June 2 ballot if the board approves them in the next few weeks. Avalos, who chairs the Budget Committee, proposed a gross-receipts tax and half-cent sales tax that he says could potentially raise more than $100 million. (Businesses making less than $2 million a year would be exempt from the gross-receipts tax, he noted.)

Mirkarimi, meanwhile, proposed an amendment to the City Charter that would target "set asides" such as the Open Space Fund, Municipal Transportation Fund and others that are granted mandatory spending under the City Charter. The amendment would place a spending cap on set-asides, authorize reductions to the funds during tough times like the current budget crisis, and allow for any year-end surpluses to be handed back to the General Fund.

Other measures that are still under consideration include an increase in the payroll tax, a vehicle-impact fee, and a tax that would discourage the consumption of energy that produces a large carbon footprint.