Friday, October 12, 2012

Election time: San Francisco propositions

Early voting has already begun in San Francisco. Time to crack open the voter information guide and make decisions on the too-many-to-count-on-my-fingers propositions facing the fine voters of San Francisco this year. To honor the futility of it all, I am today wearing my "David Chiu for Mayor" volunteer T-shirt.

My vote on propositions tends to be like Governor Brown's view on signing bills: I need a compelling reason to vote yes, otherwise I vote no. So with that, first, the city measures.

  • A - City College Parcel Tax: No. Parcel taxes are regressive, since they tax property independent of its size.
  • B - Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond: No. Park maintenance should be spent out of annual funds, not bond debt. At least with last year's roads bond, Proposition B, which I also opposed, there was the argument that there was a permanent cost to delaying repairs. I'm not going to buy a similar argument for Parks. Don't let the city cop out of its fiscal obligation to fund parks responsibly.
  • C - Housing Trust Fund: No. Efforts to "create affordable housing" invariably increase, rather than decrease, the cost of housing. The reason is by creating below-market-rate housing that is restricted to a limited number of people, the lucky few who have these discounted spots never want to leave, the available supply of at-rate housing is reduced, and the price of that housing increases: simple supply-and-demand. As a result companies who wish to grow in San Francisco are unable to find housing for workers, and so go elsewhere. Jobs leave the city, the economy tanks, and there's no resources left for these "affordable housing" programs. The best way to encourage affordable housing is to provide free market incentives, such as removing burdensome parking requirements which fundamentally limit density. Increased supply yields lower prices, not convoluted government programs.
  • D - Consolidating Odd-Year Miltiple Elections: Yes, since the controller says it will save money. Downside is it may result in more efficient voter fraud, since you get more office holders for the buck by consolidating elections into off-year elections. But I'm not sure about this, so I'll stick with the claimed cost savings.
  • E - Gross Receipts Tax: non-trivial Yes. This measure would increase the number of businesses which pay tax to the city from 7500 to 15000, increasing city revenue by $28.5M/year (around $35/person/year). As such, it's an increast cost to business, which discourages businesses from being here. On the other hand, it reduces the marginal cost of hiring, since it shifts revenue from a payroll basis to a gross receipts basis. Gross receipts preferentially taxes low-margin businesses (like supermarkets) versus high-margin businesses, since for the same net income, gross receipts are higher if margin is lower. However, I think this is a net win for the city, since a payroll tax is clearly counter-rational: we want to encourage, rather than punish, hiring.
  • F - Water and Environment Plan: No. This proposition supports draining the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir, which at this point is incredibly stupid. There's plenty of conservation battles to be fought but this lateral move simply makes no sense.
  • G - Policy Opposing Corporate Personhood: Yes. This is a nonbinding "city policy" statement which I fully support. Corporations do not have fundamental free speech rights on the same level as individuals. The individuals within a corporation have full right, of course, but to grant additional rights to the corporation is double-counting (as we say in the semiconductor device modeling world). That was never the intention nor is it the content of the U.S. Constutution. Conservatives, who nominally support a restricted reading of the constitution rather than broad, liberal interpretation, should be huge supporters of this one.

Wow -- that was fast. Only one toughie: the gross receipts tax. But I think the payroll tax is sufficiently damaging I feel okay with my position on that one.

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