Avalos emerges as the board's main progressive champion

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Sup. John Avalos seems to be the only consistent champion of progressive values at the Board of Supervisors these days, as he demonstrated once again yesterday as he tried to present some alternatives to the neoliberal corporatism that has seized City Hall over the last couple years.

Last week, Avalos was the only vote against a pandering proposal by Sup. Mark Farrell to exempt more small businesses from the city's payroll tax, which is projected to cost the city $1.5 million next fiscal year and $2.5 million the following one, blowing a $4 million hole in the two-year budget that supervisors are now finalizing for approval in two weeks.

Yesterday, as the measure was about to receive final approval on its second reading, Avalos made a motion to delay it until after the fall election when voters may consider a pair of measures to transition from a payroll to gross receipts tax as the means of assessing local businesses. Mayor Ed Lee and Board President David Chiu introduced one measure that is revenue neutral, while an alternative by Avalos would bring in about $40 million per year.

Avalos didn't have the votes for the long delay, so he got behind a compromise motion by Sup. Jane Kim to delay the measure until July 10 so the Budget Committee can at least factor it into its deliberations. Farrell opposed the move, insisting that “this is about creating jobs now,” despite the fact that businesses couldn't apply for the exemption until next February.

A spirited debate followed, in which Avalos criticized City Hall's current penchant for business tax cuts and questioned whether it really creates the jobs its boosters claim. He also noted that it is the multitude fee increases that local politicians have approved in recent years to balance the budget without raising taxes that have become most onerous for small businesses.

“When we were raising fees over the last five years, we were raising taxes on small businesses,” Avalos said, suggesting that rolling back those fees and taxing larger corporations that can afford it is a better strategy for helping small businesses and encouraging them to create jobs.

Eventually, Avalos won the short delay on a 7-4 vote, with Sups. Farrell, Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd, and Scott Wiener opposed.

Meanwhile, Avalos managed to place on the fall ballot an increase in the real estate transfer taxes paid on properties worth $2.5 million or more, convincing Sups. Kim, David Campos, and Eric Mar to support the proposal as the 5 pm deadline for at least four supervisors to place measures on the ballot neared. It would raise $16 million and compete with a similar measure by Lee that would raise $13 million through a smaller increase on properties worth more than $1 million.

Avalos also joined Campos and Chiu in opposing final approval for the 8 Washington housing project for the uber-wealthy. On the same 8-3 vote, the board also rejected Chiu's efforts to allow opponents of the project to circulate referendum petitions without having to lug around a thick stack of all the studies referenced in the project approval.

Chiu appealed to his colleagues to support “citizens of San Francisco exercising the constitutional right to referendum,” but he won few sympathies on a board that these days seems most concerned with the interests of this city's wealthiest individuals and corporations.