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CCSF HEAT On What’s wrong with the City College of San Francisco Parcel Tax Initiative
by HEAT
Below is a one-page summary followed by an analysis explaining why CCSF HEAT opposes the latest parcel tax initiative. It was written before the state budget was recently passed that provides more funding.
The initiative would impose a regressive tax—do compare it with the funding for Free City. It is poorly worded and places too much power over the use of the money in the hands of the city government. Were it to pass, it would likely poison any future effort to ask the voters for more money for CCSF. Features of an alternative funding measure are discussed in the endnotes.
FYI: Union leaders have been asked to respond to criticisms of the initiative and, after two weeks, have not done so.
sm_ccsf_layoffs_poster.jpg
CCSF HEAT On What’s wrong with the City College of San Francisco Parcel Tax Initiative

https://drive.google.com/file/d/143rJV_ylQblMiq_lGD29cFV0rKFYna_K/view

Summary:

CCSF Higher Education Action Team (HEAT) welcomes more money for public education, but the San Francisco Workforce Education and Reinvestment in the Community Success Act (SF WERCS) initiative is not the way to support City College of San Francisco (CCSF).

Reluctantly, we cannot support the proposed parcel tax initiative put forward by a coalition of the college unions’ leadership and the administration. It has too many unacceptable problems.

 It imposes a regressive tax on the public at a time when the state has an estimated $97 billion surplus that should partly be used to provide more money for public education,

 Any new tax should be paid by those with the most means to pay it. Under this proposal, the tax burden on San Francisco’s super wealthy is negligible.

 Rather than place the money that would be raised by this tax in a general fund for the college’s decision makers to decide how to allocate, it gives the city government some power over the spending of the money and restricts the ways in which the money is to be spent with no indication it would be used to restore decimated programs such as the one for Older Adults,

 It does not address the ongoing problems with how the CCSF Administration and Board of Trustees continue to cut classes despite failing to show any reasons for not adopting an alternative budget put forward by AFT 2121 union leaders under which layoffs and class cuts for the fall 2022 term could be avoided. The class cuts will result in fewer students and, in the future, less state revenue for the college.


A typical set of problems with the administration was described in a June 9 bulletin sent out by AFT 2121 leaders under the title “Update on the District's Bad Faith

Bargaining & Open Bargaining Invites for Next Week”

The district team came unprepared to bargain over any of these issues, [the impacts of the recent devastating layoffs]. In fact, their chief negotiator, Clara Starr appears to have little to no authority to negotiate or hold her team accountable. For example, VC of finance John al-Amin failed to provide basic financial information in advance of the meeting and couldn't provide or review anything during the meeting because he was busy driving during high-stakes labor negotiations.

Since [Chancellor] David Martin arrived at the college [in November 2021], labor relations have completely deteriorated. The Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) recently upheld AFT’s Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) claim alleging bad faith negotiations over salary restoration. Despite this, the

District yesterday continued its pattern of bad faith bargaining. The District appears to be taking no corrective action and their behavior yesterday is cause for another Unfair Labor Practice.

The District would not concretely commit to respond to our proposals and outstanding Requests for Information (RFIs), including data on how much the district is saving due to the layoffs. They claim to need over three weeks to produce basic payroll data on the savings produced by layoffs–a clear signal that the decision to drastically downsize our college was not mandated by budgetary concerns.

____________________________________
Discussion

There is currently an effort underway to raise money for City College of San Francisco (CCSF) through a November 2022 ballot initiative. An estimated $45 million would be raised yearly through an increase in property taxes.

Unions at CCSF have often been divided. Their leaders have united over this effort, a welcomed development. However, part of the coalition pushing the initiative includes the problematic administration and Board of Trustees that have been needlessly eliminating the educational opportunities of CCSF’s predominantly working class and lower middle-class students who are mostly people of color.

Even though the passage of the initiative would result in more revenue for the college that could be used to avert more cuts in jobs and class offerings, CCSF HEAT opposes it.

By taking this position, is HEAT being divisive and causing harm? We have a responsibility to be honest with the public and point out the numerous problems with this initiative. It would end up imposing another unnecessary tax on many people after they have so generously agreed to pay, since 2013, an across-the-board regressive parcel tax of $79, now $99 per year, and fund an $845 million bond to benefit CCSF while tens of billions of their money is currently in the form of a surplus in the hands of the Democratic Party controlled government in Sacramento.

Why HEAT opposes this Initiative

Reasons include:

 It’s a regressive tax, meaning those who are the most well-off can easily afford to pay the tax compared to others who will be subject to it.

 We question a need for it given the massive state surplus of close to $100 billion.

 Given our recent history, we have little confidence in the money being used by the administration and board for its intended purposes.

 There were few, if any, opportunities for union members to discuss and have input into the content of this initiative.

Rather than the money raised becoming part of the college’s general fund, the initiative requires that the money be rigidly devoted in equal amounts to four specified uses. These use requirements may not be practical. Many described uses are for good purposes such as equity and social justice programs aimed at supporting underrepresented students that have a history of being discriminated against. It also provides money for more English as a Second Language classes whose numbers have been recently severely reduced by the CCSF Administration and the Board of Trustees. This means the initiative is being put forward partly to reverse the unnecessary damage done to the college by its leadership which forms part of the coalition pushing this initiative!

There is nothing to indicate that all critical programs that have been severely cut would be restored such as the one for Older Adults. Much of the language of how the money would be used reflects the views of those who believe the primary purpose of the college is to narrowly focus on providing training of a future workforce in skills needed by businesses, subsidizing them so they do not have to pay for the training of their workers themselves.

Who controls the use of the money is also critical. As written, control would be in the hands of the administration and board that have been instituting major cuts in class offerings and laying off hundreds of employees. Together, they recently ignored the alternative budget put forward by leaders of AFT 2121 that would have resulted in no cuts being made while meeting reserve requirements. This initiative would put even more money into the hands of the administration and CCSF’s Board of Trustees, groups in which many people at CCSF have little confidence.

The measure requires that the college must submit a plan to the city government each year showing how the money raised from the tax will be spent. If the Mayor and Board of Supervisors request an explanation for items in the plan and the Board finds the responses to be inadequate, the Board may hold the money in reserve until it finds the responses to be “adequate.” The Mayor and Board of Supervisors can also suspend disbursements when the city Controller certifies that the college “has failed to adopt audit recommendations made by the Controller.” This initiative gives the city government too much control over the use of the money in the fund, creating a risk that the monies will be treated like a political football.i

There are also the lessons of recent fundraising efforts when the CCSF administration received money clearly intended to be used for good purposes and then failed to do so. Examples:

In November 2012, voters passed the Prop A parcel tax to pay for increasing educational offerings. Following its passage, the administration responded by laying off some 60 faculty and staff and imposing a 9% pay cut.

The money that State Senator Leno secured for CCSF during the accreditation crisis was supposed to be used to restore enrollment. Instead, much of this money was placed in the reserves to be soon reduced by Chancellor Rocha who, despite declines in enrollment, quickly increased the number of administrators from 47 to 56. They were paid salaries more than $40,000 over the state average for those holding comparable positions.

Those behind this initiative are putting it forward now when the state government has a current surplus of close to $100 billion, and when, in Spring 2022, the leaders of AFT 2121 asserted that the college has enough funds to avoid class cuts and layoffs. Many reports indicate that the state will be providing schools with more funding than was anticipated. Yet, the CCSF Administration and Board of Trustees show no signs of reversing their decisions to cut more classes, lay off over 30 full-time tenured faculty and more than a hundred part time faculty on top of the more than 300 part time faculty who have lost their jobs in the last two years.

Instead of asking taxpayers to cough up still more money, why isn’t there a statewide fight being advocated and organized by teacher unions demanding more money for public education? With more money, cuts could be avoided, and our public schools could offer more services and classes.

San Francisco is home to many powerful politicians including Governor Newsom and Phil Ting who is chair of the Assembly budget committee. They should be called on to make certain that CCSF is not further downsized and provided with the means to grow.

How the Measure is a Regressive Tax

The tax resulting from this initiative is regressive despite the claims being made by supporters that it is a “progressive, tiered parcel tax.” Every homeowner would pay $150 (except for those 65 or older.) One who lives in a mansion in Pacific Heights would pay the same $150 as one who lives in a tiny house in a poorer section of the city. Multimillionaires like Diane Feinstein or Nancy Pelosi would not be subject to the tax since they are both over 65.

The claimed progressive tiered character of the tax is how it would be applied to commercial property with the greater the square footage, the higher the tax. However, this tiered system is regressive and poorly constructed. Here is a table with the rates:

Size of Non-residential property

property under 5,000 square feet
Size 5,000 to 24,999 square feet
Size over 25,000 and under 100,000 square feet Over 100,000 square feet

Tax

$150 $1,250

$2,500

$4,000


A person owning a commercial property of 6,000 square feet pays the same amount as one who owns a property four times as large at 24,000 square feet. One who owns a building of 5,001 square feet would be paying $1,250, $1,100 more than one who owns a building two square feet smaller who would be paying $150. The owner of a building slightly over 100,000 square feet pays the same as the owner of the Transamerica Pyramid whose square footage is more than seven times greater.

Under this initiative, the owner of the Pyramid pays less than .6 cents (less than a penny) per square foot while the owner of the 100,000 square foot commercial building is paying 4 cents a square foot. The homeowner of a house that is 1,000 square feet is paying 15 cents a square foot. Calling the tax progressive is nonsense.ii

Additionally, those with higher incomes are likely to be in a higher tax bracket. When they deduct this tax, they receive a bigger savings in their taxes than is obtained by those with lower incomes.

Those claiming this tax proposal is progressive are either ignorant or lying.

Free City Funding comes from a Progressive Tax

What also makes this proposal troubling is to contrast the funding for it with the funding for the Free City program that eliminates the cost of tuition for city residents. To pay for Free City, a higher transfer tax was imposed on sales of property of over $5 million. Only those with great resources would be subject to the tax, the same folks who should be paying to fund this SF WERCS initiative. The Free City transfer tax is estimated to raise $45 million a year, but only about a third of it is used to fund Free City. Shouldn’t the college receive all of this money raised? Were that to happen, there would be even less justification for this initiative.

This initiative, in many ways, represents a political failure. For years, the leaders of AFT 2121 have been trying to get the city to provide CCSF with a consistent stream of money. Their efforts have had no success. The Democrats, who dominate the San Francisco and state government and who continually are supported in their election bids by teacher unions, have not come through and provided public education institutions with the money that is needed.iii As a result, the advocates for the SF WERCS initiative look to voters, who have been generous to CCSF, to cough up even more money.

For years, there have been serious leadership problems at CCSF that are not being addressed. The actions/inactions of the administration and Board of Trustees have reduced enrollment that would result in the college receiving more money from the state. They have driven students away by closing satellite campuses such as Fort Mason, cutting classes, dismantling programs, failing for years to make the online registration system user-friendly (that discourages potential students from enrolling,) not printing a schedule of classes and widely distributing them throughout the city to publicize what the college offers, etc.

In essence, much must be fixed at CCSF. People should not be asked to pay one more regressive tax at a time the state government is flush with billions and should be placing even greater tax burdens on the super wealthy to pay for the numerous and obvious needs of people residing in the state.

i Under the proposal, the power given to the city government could have instead been placed in-house at the college by requiring the approval of the spending plan by the college’s Academic Senate and Department Chairs with input from the student government, people who are in a much better position to understand the needs of students.

ii The initiative could have been written as a progressive tax. It could be a tax per square foot with an exemption on the first 1,000 square feet and a higher tax rate per square foot on property over a particular square foot threshold. For example, the first 5,000 square feet could be taxed 5 cents a square foot. Property over 5,000 square feet could be taxed 5 cents per square foot on the first 5,000 square feet and then at a rate of 7.5 cents per square foot on the square footage in excess of 5,000 and 10 cents a square foot on the square footage in excess of 10,000 square feet, etc.

iii For years, despite being an extremely wealthy state, the government has not seen fit to adequately fund public education. Getting voter approval for initiatives that raise more money for public education have been used as a work around the failures of elected officials.

Documents: see http://www.sfwercs.com
Text of initiative: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JWWw5iE6WKinwaXdDU9GFoB8oWDE8ShR/view



or:

https://sfelections.sfgov.org/sites/default/files/Documents/candidates/20220512_SF%20Workf orce%20EDU%20%26%20Reinvestment%20in%20Community%20Success_Legal%20Text.p


df

CCSF Revenue Campaign’s Executive Summary of plan

https://drive.google.com/file/d/16BU0nmgrXwU4TkLt_otyJMIgAAnkHJl9/view?usp=sharing


Higher Education Action Team
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