Senator Wiener’s Statement Opposing Proposition C on the November Ballot in San Francisco

Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) issued the following statement regarding his opposition to Proposition C:

“Today I’m joining Mayor London Breed and Assemblymember David Chiu in announcing our opposition to Proposition C.

Contrary to claims by Prop C proponents that it is a tiny tax increase, Prop C would be the largest tax increase in San Francisco history — $300 million annually, or a 33% increase in San Francisco’s already-high gross receipts business tax. San Francisco’s largest employers, which already pay about half of all business taxes, would see their taxes double overnight. These funds would be dedicated in perpetuity to homeless services and housing and could never be used for any other purpose, no matter the circumstances or changing needs.

Prop C also creates a new lockbox budget set-aside of nearly $700 million annually for homeless services and housing, by freezing in place current spending on homelessness ($380 million annually) in addition to levying this new $300 million tax on top of existing spending. This set-aside would be the largest in our city budget — larger than our set asides for Muni, children’s services, public schools, fire protection, and our library system.

Prop C was placed on the ballot by outside groups without any meaningful stakeholder engagement or any public process, for example, without the participation of our Mayor or the leadership of the Board of Supervisors. The proponents of Prop C crafted and qualified this measure on their own and without conducting the type of broad-based stakeholder process that has characterized the overwhelming majority of San Francisco tax, bond, and other funding measures. Particularly when people are proposing the largest tax increase in the history of our city, one would expect them to convene a stakeholder process to discuss the size, source, and uses for the tax. That did not happen. One would expect them to engage with our Mayor. That didn’t happen either. That’s not how we should govern San Francisco. If Prop C passes, tax policy will have effectively moved out of City Hall and into the hands of outside groups.

I thought long and hard before taking this position, and I’ll be honest that I struggled with the issue. I’m not anti-tax, having supported various tax measures. I am passionate about finding solutions to homelessness and paying for them, and I’ve put my money where my mouth is in supporting taxes and funding increases for homeless services. It’s not comfortable for me to oppose a tax measure to support the most vulnerable members of our community. Yet, Prop C is extreme, was not responsibly crafted, and isn’t the right answer to this human tragedy.

During my eight years in elected office, I have supported large investments in services and housing for homeless people. Over my six years on the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee, we increased our annual investment in homelessness by hundreds of millions of dollars, with my support. I supported local funding ballot measures for homelessness, including our multi-billion-dollar affordable housing trust fund, a sales tax to support homeless services, a commercial rent tax to support homeless housing, and an affordable housing bond. As a Senator, I’ve continued to advocate for and support large funding increases for homeless services and housing. I co-authored a tax increase for affordable housing, including for formerly homeless people, and co-authored the affordable housing bond on the November ballot. During this year’s budget process, I joined several colleagues to advocate for $5 billion in additional state investment in homelessness and housing over the next four years. We ultimately obtained approximately $600 million in new funding for the current fiscal year, including, at my request, nearly $30 million in new funding specifically for homeless youth. I’ll continue to support and advocate for new funding for homeless programs and housing.

I have also supported, and taken the lead on, public policies to help our homeless population. I co-authored state legislation to legalize safe injection sites. I authored legislation to streamline approval of homeless housing throughout California, to make it easier to get severely mentally ill and drug-addicted people on our streets into housing and services, and to increase the state’s focus on the needs of homeless youth. I’ve consistently supported difficult-to-site navigation centers and other homeless service locations.

Yet, supporting smart and bold investments and policies to reduce and end homelessness doesn’t mean supporting any tax measure that’s labeled as a way to end homelessness. And, it doesn’t mean supporting the largest tax increase in San Francisco history without a broad stakeholder process or a meaningful discussion about how that money should be spent.

Prop C also upends the carefully crafted gross receipts tax that we spent years formulating and that the voters adopted in 2012 (as Prop E). A broad-based stakeholder group — including Mayor Ed Lee, then-Supervisor David Chiu, the Controller, the business community, labor, and social service nonprofits — spent several years negotiating this tax and ensuring that it recognized the diverse economic models of different industries. Prop E resulted in a nuanced and progressive business tax, with the largest 3% of businesses paying nearly half of all business tax collections. Prop C upends this carefully crafted and negotiated business tax.

If Prop C were a smaller tax, I’d likely overlook these deficiencies and support the measure, given the importance of investment in homeless services and housing. However, in light of Prop C’s massive size and the lack of stakeholder engagement, I simply can’t overlook the irresponsible way in which it was crafted.

As a result, I will be voting “no” on Prop C.

I look forward to working with all stakeholders to craft smart policy to address the homelessness crisis we face, including generating additional revenue to invest in this key need. I will continue to advocate for increased state investments. I also know that Mayor Breed is fully committed to additional investments to end homelessness and that she is working with stakeholders to make that happen. I fully support that process.”