San Francisco's liberal bubble is potentially facing serious strains under the looming presidency of Donald Trump. As we noted earlier, and as the Chronicle reports again, if the president-elect follows through on his promise to deny federal funding to Sanctuary Cities, then SF may lose up to $1 billion per year and would be forced to rethink some of its budget decisions. Items we now learn are potentially on the chopping block include the Twitter tax break, proposed free tuition for City College, and the city's newly voted obligation to maintain street trees.
Making matters worse, a projected $5 billion shortfall in pension funds and the failure of voters to pass Proposition K mean that even if Trump doesn't pull federal funds we're still looking at some belt tightening. “The city is in a strong financial position, and the mayor is committed to remaining disciplined when it comes to the budget,” mayoral spokesperson Deirdre Hussey told the Chronicle. “However, the city’s revenue growth is slowing and pension costs have risen in recent years faster than projected. ... These things combined make it essential for policy makers to rebalance the budget.”
And that rebalancing might just manifest in a few surprising ways. First off, the promises of free tuition at City College may never come to pass. Remember Prop W? That measure increased the real estate transfer tax on both residential and commercial properties worth over $5 million, with supporters saying the tax revenue would go toward tuition. However, as we pointed out at the time, those revenues are slated to go into the General Fund and are not earmarked for City College. As such, the city can spend that money on whatever it wants — political promises not withstanding. A non-binding resolution was passed by the Board of Supervisors in July saying that money would be used for City College, but officials are now considering directing those dollars elsewhere.
And what about the sidewalk tree maintenance? Prop E, mandating that the city take back responsibility for street trees, passed in the November election with 79 percent of the vote — so what gives? Well, the measure included a provision that allows the Mayor to suspend it before January 1 of this year — meaning Mayor Lee can undo it with the stroke of a pen.
In addition, revenue generated by the Soda Tax may not go to heath programs as original promised, but instead be used to fund homeless services such as Navigation Centers.
As for the Twitter Tax break? Supervisor Aaron Peskin finally sees a chance to do away with that one. Having co-sponsored a failed payroll tax earlier this year that some called the "tech tax," it is perhaps no surprise that Peskin would see this expected budget shortfall as an opportunity to claw back the roughly $34 million annually in lost taxes.
With a city budget of $9.6 billion, larger than that of 13 states, San Francisco is certainly better positioned than other cities to weather the coming Trump storm. What priorities are tossed overboard in the next few years will be revealing, however, and may just prove that our liberal bubble is not as thick as we all might have hoped.