The tax poll is seriously messed up


Chuck Nevius, who doesn't seem to like any taxes, weighed in this morning on a poll paid for by the city's Transportation Authority that, the way Nevius puts it, "[cast] doubt on whether it would be wise to put some tax issues on the ballot in November." His analysis of the numbers:

[W]hen it comes to the hotel, parking, business and real estate transfer tax, the voters had four responses: no, no, no and hell no.

His ideological soulmate over at the Ex, Ken Garcia, had a similar report. "San Francisco," he wrote, "is not in a tax-supporting mood."

But that's not how I read the poll at all.

You can see the actual document here. The first thing I'll note is that 67 percent of the people who responded were over 40. That's not a surprise; telephone polls skew older these days. (How many young people have land lines, which are the numbers primarily called by pollsters?) The second is that some of the questions are pretty close to incomprehensible. Imagine someone reading this to you over the phone and asking for a quick answer:

To provide loans to pay for seismic retrofits of certain multi-story wood structures at significant
risk of substantial damage and collapse during a major earthquake and funded by a qualified
governmental housing finance agency for permanent or long-term affordability, or single room
occupancy buildings owned by private parties, and pay related costs, shall the City and County
of San Francisco issue up to thirty nine million one hundred forty thousand dollars of general
obligation bonded indebtedness, subject to citizen oversight and regular audits?

But the most important thing is that the tax questions were more than misleading; they're phrased in a way that almost begs for a No. Here's the real-estate transfer tax question:

Shall the City and County of San Francisco increase the real property transfer tax on certain
properties by between $3.75 and $10.00 per $500.00 of value, depending on the overall
property value and exempting rent-restricted affordable housing units from the increased tax rate?

That sounds like the average person trying to buy or sell a house is going to get hit with more taxes. Actually, nobody's proposing a tax on low-end sales. If you asked the real question -- should people or businesses that sell property worth more than $5 million pay a slightly higher transfer tax -- you'd get a very different answer.

Here's another one:

Shall the City and County of San Francisco establish a progressive payroll expense tax rate
structure and impose a gross receipts tax on the rental of commercial real property?

My immediate response: What the hell does that mean? It sounds like higher taxes on payrolls and a new tax on rents. Sounds like it's bad for small business. Actually, that's an utterly inaccurate representation of the tax the Sup. David Chiu is proposing. How avbout an honest question: Should the city cut taxes on small businesses and make banks and insurance companies pay their fair share? I suspect that would poll a little higher.

You want a real snapshot of how a conservative, older groups of voters, the ones represented in this poll, feel about taxes? Check out question 13, which asks people if they agree or disagree with this statement:

It is crucial to have high quality streets, roads and public transit, even if it means raising taxes.

A full 71 percent said they agree.

I'm not arguing that it's going to be easy to pass any tax proposals on the fall ballot. But if you put the question the right way, and explain that these revenue measures impact primarily the wealthier residents and businesses and that they money is needed for essential public services, I think most voters are going to say Yes.