EDITORIAL Big, powerful corporations seem to always find a way to get what they want out of City Hall, particularly under the administration of Mayor Ed Lee, and often at the expense of people who really do need the help.
For example, why is a city that projects annual budget deficits getting steadily bigger over the next five years spending almost $17 million annually on corporate welfare programs, including giving millions of dollars in tax breaks and other city perks to Twitter, a company worth $24 billion?
The Twitter-inspired payroll tax exemption zone in mid-Market cost the city more than $4.2 million last year, reaped by just 11 companies and their landlords (Twitter saved another $570,000 last when its stock options were exempted). By contrast, a tax break for small business in San Francisco cost the city almost $5.3 million last year, but that was spread among 2,488 businesses with less than $500,000 in annual revenue.
They’re all part of a package of business tax cuts that makes no sense in a city with record low unemployment and an overheating economy that is driving up rents and the cost of living. The tax breaks reported by the Tax Collector’s Office on June 23 even included a law adopted in the ’90s that requires the city to cut $3.5 million in tax rebate checks to employers when tax revenues rise more than 7 percent.
Yet the city desperately needs that money. It is still facing a $330 million budget deficit in just a few years, as well as huge funding shortfalls for Muni and the water, power, and sewer services operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
The SFPUC could have made money with its CleanPowerSF program to generate and sell renewable energy, but Mayor Lee sabotaged that program as a favor to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported on June 23, Lee has close and symbiotic relationship with PG&E, which funds Lee’s pet projects and so he shields the utility from competition, even at the expense of the city’s budget and greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Last year’s $17 million in corporate welfare didn’t even include the $5.5 million city taxpayer subsidy for the America Cup’s, where one the richest men in the world, Larry Ellison, was defending his title yet hoarding his cash. If the Mayor’s Office had its way, Ellison and his cronies would also now control Piers 30-32 and other valuable Port of San Francisco properties.
The Board of Supervisors thankfully shot down that proposal, but the Port is still way too beholden to wealthy suitors who want to appropriate waterfront property, a point that the Civil Grand Jury made last week in a report calling for reform, including giving the board two of the five appointments to the Port Commission. That’s a good idea that we should also apply to the SFPUC and SFMTA boards, which carry out the Mayor’s Office agenda on behalf of the rich.
The corruption and political giveaways have gotten obscene and something has to change.