Business

San Franciscans will vote on slapping extra tax on big firms to fund homeless aid

Bloomberg

San Francisco voters in November will decide whether to levy an additional tax on large businesses to fund homeless services, part of an expanding effort among West Coast cities to tap cash-flush companies to offset growing income inequality.

The tax would apply to companies with gross receipts above $50 million at rates ranging from 0.175 percent to 0.69 percent for revenue generated in the city, according to the measure, which qualified for the ballot Monday. Companies that pay a tax based on payroll rather than gross receipts would face an additional 1.5 percent levy.

Homelessness has been a scourge across San Francisco, made worse by soaring housing costs fueled in part by a booming technology industry. Funds from the ballot measure would go to housing at least 4,000 homeless people and expanding shelter beds by 1,000 in five years, proponents say. Proceeds of the tax would also finance mental health and substance abuse facilities and rent subsidies. City officials haven’t yet determined how much the tax would raise.

“San Franciscans should not have to step over homeless people or walk out their doors and see tents on sidewalks, and homeless people should not be forced to live in these conditions,” wrote the measure’s sponsors, part of a group called Our City, Our Home.

The San Francisco push is similar to others in Silicon Valley towns that are dominated by the tech industry, which has faced blame for the Bay Area’s growing wealth gaps. Voters in Google’s hometown of Mountain View will decide in November whether to levy a tax per employee. Cupertino, where Apple Inc. is based, is also considering such a move. Seattle passed a similar measure in June, only to repeal it under pressure from businesses, including Amazon.com Inc.

The San Francisco measure would likely be less expensive for tech companies than a head tax, since it would apply either to revenue from the city or payroll. Some businesses already pay a gross receipts tax between 0.16 percent to 0.65 percent depending on their activities.

Tech companies are treading carefully. Salesforce.com Inc., a cloud-based applications software company that is the biggest tech employer in San Francisco, said it has already given $4 million to homeless programs while its employees have volunteered thousands of hours for the cause. Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff has been a vocal advocate for easing the crisis.

“We are evaluating the potential ballot measure to carefully assess its merits in addressing this important issue,” the company said in a statement.