When voters passed Proposition W back in November, they were told that revenues generated by the increased real estate transfer tax on residential and commercial properties worth over $5 million would go toward making City College tuition free. It turns out that that may have been wishful thinking. The Chronicle reports that Mayor Ed Lee's proposed budget only puts $3 million annually, not the $14 million annually that free tuition proponents said was needed, toward the free tuition plan. Meaning, it probably won't happen in any form in the near future.
How can he do this? Well, although the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in July saying that the money from Prop W would be used for City College, the resolution was non-binding. What's more, the revenue Prop W generates goes into San Francisco's General Fund — meaning the money is not restricted. So the money is there, it's just going to be spent elsewhere as the city is facing a major budget deficit.
“I took into account all the needs and put forward a plan to deal with all of them in what I feel is a fair and reasonable way,” Lee explained in a statement released Thursday. “There are always tough decisions that need to be made in a rebalancing budget, but this takes into account what voters and residents have advocated for.”
Those who support making City College free, like Supervisor Jane Kim, disagree. “We can and must remain committed to our promise to make City College free for all San Francisco residents,” Kim told the Chronicle. “This promise wasn’t contingent on both the real estate transfer tax and the sales tax passing. ... Instead of raiding our fund, let’s work on a progressive revenue measure together this year which can pass.”
Kim is referring to the voter-defeated Proposition K — a general sales tax that would have put revenue into the General Fund. Supporters argued that it was needed to pay for Proposition J, but, again, the to-be-generated revenue was destined for the General Fund so there was no way to be sure where that money would have been spent had the measure passed. Regardless, the measure didn't pass because people don't like new taxes, and that's a problem for the city's budget which assumed that it would.
Which brings us to the present, where it's not just the idea of free tuition at City College that is likely about to go up in smoke. Lee's budget reneges on several promises made to the San Francisco citizenry prior to the election. From homeless services to transportation funding, money is being shuffled in an attempt to at least partially fund voter-identified priorities. In this sort of compromise, of course, everyone is likely to be left upset.
This reapportioning of funds is set to happen whether or not president-elect Donald Trump follows through on his promise to cut federal funding to Sanctuary Cities like ours, which could result in close to a billion dollars in lost funds to the budget. The aforementioned failure of Prop K, combined with what the Chronicle reports as the city's pension woes, means our budget is dripping in red ink. The dream of free City College for all is just the first promise likely headed for the chopping block.