Lee seeks to lessen political damage from his promised veto

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Mayor Ed Lee says he will veto legislation that the Board of Supervisors approved yesterday that would have banned San Francisco businesses from keeping money they're required to set aside for employee health care costs. But he seems to be worried about how that move will be seen by voters, touting his support for a “consensus strategy” that doesn't yet exist and might not be possible given the fundamentally different way both sides see the issue.

The legislation by Sup. David Campos addresses the $50 million per year that businesses have been taking from their employees' health savings accounts, which they set up to comply with city law requiring them to cover employee health care costs and which many restaurants subsidize by placing a 3-5 percent surcharge on their customers' bills.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and opponents of the Campos legislation defend the practice and cast efforts to reserve that money for employee health care as a job-killing loss to the business community, although some have finally come around to calling the practice a “loophole” that should be addressed with minor reforms. Yet labor groups and consumer advocates say businesses have no valid claim to that money, making it difficult to see where this elusive common ground might lie.

Supporters of the legislation – including mayoral candidates Leland Yee, Dennis Herrera, John Avalos, and Phil Ting, as well as Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who authored the Health Care Security Ordinance as a supervisor – rallied on the steps of the City Hall today, calling for Lee to sign the legislation.

Shortly thereafter, the Mayor's Office issued a press release with the headline “Mayor Lee Convenes Group to Improve Health Care Access & Protect Job,” announcing a “consensus building effort” that includes business groups and Campos and other supporters of the measure. Campos tells the Guardian that he did get a call from the Mayor's Office today and he agreed to take part in the effort – just as he did in fruitless negotiations with Chamber officials – but he still has a fundamental disagreement with Lee and other Chamber allies over the issue.

“I talked to the Mayor's Office about their proposal and I have indicated my concerns,” Campos said. He noted that both Lee's proposal and another alternative by Board President David Chiu – who was quoted in Lee's press release saying “I am committed to continuing the collaborative effort to ensure health care access to workers while protecting jobs.” – let businesses profit from money that's supposed to be dedicated to employee health care

“So far, none of the proposals except for mine ensure that whatever consumers pay goes to health care,” Campos said, expressing confidence that public opinion is on his side. “It's one of those issues that the more everyday San Franciscans hear what's happening, the more outraged they are.”

But while Lee and Chiu each use the language of seeking compromise and trying to “close the loophole,” both rely on the basic Chamber paradigm that this money belongs to the businesses and setting it aside for employee health care as city law calls for would hurt “jobs.”

When Lee was asked about the issue by a group of reporters today, he said: “Next week, we're forging a labor and management entities' meeting with the Mayor's Office and supervisors to try to forge changes to the Campos legislation. I cannot sign it the way it is now, because of two reasons. One, it does not focus on the healthcare needs of the employees; and two, it will force the employers to just keep millions of dollars lying around without any use and that will decrease the efforts to create more jobs. So both objectives have to be reflected in the ordinance, and I want to make the changes appropriate for that.”

The first reason seems to ignore the fact that the city is barred by federal ERISA law from telling businesses how to provide health coverage, which is why so many of them opted to create these health savings accounts – which are almost useless for people facing serious medical costs – rather than providing health insurance or paying into the city's Healthy San Francisco program. And supporters of the legislation simply reject the validity of Lee's second reason.

“That position is based on a false premise. This money belongs to the workers and it's something that consumers are paying for,” Campos said. “We have a fundamental disagreement.”

Comments

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Posted by WilliamMichaels on Oct. 05, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

As a provider who uses HSF, particularly for young workers in San Francisco, our "consensus mayor" strikes again. There is no consensus when it comes to providing excellent health care through HSF that the workers themselves and the businesses that hire them should be paying for. Years before Tom Ammiano crafted what is now a seen as a successful inexpensive program that pays for care including preventive care, the Department of Public health was going broke taking care of thousands workers without care who simply had no other place to go when they got sick or injured. Even Gavin Newsom regularly mentions this program when out on the campaign trail as innovative and necessary. It benefits businesses who could not afford to pay for highly priced private insurance and the money should be used solely for their care. THe Campos bill merely closes those loopholes that some businesses have used to increase their profits. That's wrong and the Consensus mayor is wrong no matter how he spins it to veto this measure.

This is another another reason why Mr. Ed is just another down-town business focused politician who puts them first and not the workers.

I applaud State Senator Yee, Supervisor Avalos and Tom Ammiano for holding a press conference on an important subject and the Guardian for covering it. The real news is that neither the Chronicle nor Beyond Chron did. Another reason to reject the Consensus Mayor in November and vote for those who came to city hall yesterday, like Leland and John, on November 8th.

Posted by Guest lucretiamott on Oct. 06, 2011 @ 4:16 am

We're gonna need a bigger kettle,

Toss in 'Occupy SF' (a real wild card - Ed Lee sent his brutal DPW head, Mohammed Nuru this morning to break up the encampment) ... add Lee and Chiu yielding to the Chamber of Commerce move to steal Healthy San Francisco funds for their clients (thus transferring legitimate social costs of doing business back to the City and SF General Hospital) ...

Suddenly we have a couple of more defining issues put before the candidates. Lee's response is to break up the demonstration in the case of 'Occupy SF' and to call another gathering of his 'City Family' to delay closing the loophole.

Morning Chron says that Downtown Ethics stooge, John St. Croix says he may refuse to lift the spending cap on candidates overwhelmed by Lee's Independent Expenditures (this on orders from Jim Sutton and as 4 of the members of the Ethics Commission are running for Mayor, their proxies could easily rein St. Croix in but Chiu has already sided with the devil).

Gabriel Haaland and Tom O'Connor and Gary Delugnuts are sinking their arms deeper into the outdoor privy with their baseless 'Wisconsin' attack ads on Jeff Adachi.

And, still 33 days to go and 6 million in candidates accounts and untold more millions in IE funds from the likes of Tim Conway (he's promised a cool million more to feed the Ed Lee forces of evil) ...

Wear your tallest hip boots and a raincoat with a hood because as they shit storm combines with our seasonal rains it's gonna get nastier and nastier out there.

Don't you love it?

Go Niners!

h.

Posted by h. brown on Oct. 06, 2011 @ 7:09 am