There’s a rift between Lyft and the money men who power Silicon Valley over Prop. 30, the tax proposal to fund electric vehicles, as venture capital billionaires are dropping millions and enlisting Gavin Newsom to defeat the tax hike.
There’s some truth to the No On Prop. 30 commercials that call the measure a "Lyft grift," though "grift" may be an overstatement. According to California campaign finance filings, Lyft alone has dumped nearly $46 million into the campaign's $48 million war chest. So yes, Lyft is clearly the primary financier of this proposed tax on individuals making more than $2 million a year to help people buy electric cars and build more charging stations. (Also, our old billionaire buddies Ron Conway and Tom Steyer have contributed $50,000 apiece toward the measure.)
Governor Gavin Newsom prominently opposes the measure, even cutting the ad above. Newsom does not name Lyft (though its name appears in text behind him), but he calls it “One company’s cynical scheme to grab a high taxpayer-funded subsidy,” and adds that Prop. 30 is “devised by a single corporation to funnel state income taxes to benefit their company.” Both of these statements are half-truths. Lyft would not directly receive a penny of subsidies, though it's quite certain that their drivers would. And Lyft did not “devise” Prop. 30, it was submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, though that nonprofit admits to the Sacramento Bee that Lyft “was involved in the drafting” of the measure.
But the effort to defeat the tax-increase measure is also a Silicon Valley billionaire boy’s club. According to state campaign filings, the most prominent No on Prop. 30 donors are Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings and SF Standard financier Michael Moritz, who both kicked down $1 million apiece to defeat it. San Francisco investment banker Mark Heising has also given $1.25 million to defeat Prop. 30.
You can imagine why; Prop. 30 would impose a 1.75% tax increase on Californians who make more than $2 million a year — taxing only the amount they make over $2 million. That money would subsidize everyday, regular Californians’ purchases of zero-emission electric vehicles. (Some of it would also go to buying charging stations, and increasing wildfire-fighting funding). But given Newsom’s own requirement to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, Prop. 30 would help Lyft comply, with no investment by Lyft, and all of the investment from wealthy California taxpayers.
And wealthy California taxpayers in the tech sector don’t like that idea one bit. Other big-money tech donors contributing against Prop 30 include serial security camera installer Chris Larsen of Ripple Labs ($250,000), big-time recall donors William Oberndorf ($100,000) and Arthur Rock (just under $500,000), and Zynga CEO Mark Pincus (just under $500,000). And Pinkus doesn’t even live in California anymore, he moved to Aspen!
Plenty of other household names pepper the No On Prop. 30 donor list. Oakland A’s owner John Fisher has contributed just under $1 million, and the 49ers’ parent company DeBartolo Corporation has given $10,000. The Gap heir Bill Fisher has given $98,000 to defeat Prop. 30, and oh no, Dede Wilsey has thrown down $25,000 against the measure.
Has Uber paid any money to support Prop. 30, like Lyft has? They have not. And there may be dots to connect there, as many of the VCs who financed Uber are contributing heavily against Prop. 30. We mentioned the SF Standard’s Michael Moritz, who’s affiliated with major Uber investor Sequoia Capital. Other Sequoia Capital bigwigs are also funding against Prop. 30, like Doug Leone ($50,000) and Michael Vernal ($10,000). Billion-dollar Uber backers Kleiner Perkins also has representatives on the No On 30 backer list (Brook Byers, $95,000).
The most puzzling thing is why Gavin Newsom is so publicly against this funding of electric vehicles. One very plausible theory is he’s sucking up to his wealthiest donors. He may also be wary of California’s high-tax reputation as he explores his national ambitions, and this only makes that tax higher. Or maybe it’s an inverse of those two; if he can tell his donors that he saved them from that big, bad tax, maybe they’ll help his national campaign should that come in 2028, or sooner.
Image: Left: No On 30, (Right) Joe Kukura, SFist