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Warning to Democrats: Go easy on taxes!

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Nancy Pelosi didn’t do herself, or Democrats, any favors with her remark (reported in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle) that “We have to put our hands into the pockets of the people who have [money].”

She was referring to Proposition C, which is on the city’s November ballot. It would tax San Francisco’s biggest companies 0.5% on revenues above $50 million annually, bringing in an extra $250 million a year to fund homeless programs. That’s on top of the corporate taxes these companies already pay, and would double the city’s annual expenditures on homeless programs to half-a-billion dollars with–let’s be truthful–little to show for it.

Pelosi, you’ll recall, was called a “Communist” during Saturday’s far right-inspired melée, organized by the Florida Republican Party and instigated by The Proud Boys, that bizarre mélange of fat, under-educated, rural white crackers who look like they have some familiarity with the inside of a prison cell and the acrid smell of meth. When Republicans call someone a “Communist,” I doubt if they have any conception what Communism really is, except for one thing: taxes. In Republican minds, “Communist” = “high taxes,” and that’s why Pelosi’s comment was so stupid.

Break it down. “We have to put our hands into the pockets of the people who have money.” Who is the “We” she refers to? Obviously, it’s government. Who are the “people who have money”? In this case, it’s corporations, but taxing corporations doesn’t really harm them. They neutralize higher taxes with a variety of means: fewer raises and benefits for their workers—passing their increased costs on to consumers for their products and services—or leaving town for lower-taxing cities.

And this metaphor of “putting our hands into the pockets”? Troubling. Reminds me of the famous Willie Sutton remark: Asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Nobody has a right to put their hands into your pocket except you, right? You wouldn’t want someone trying to get in there. They’re called “pickpockets” and they deserve your opprobrium for a good reason: they’re trying to steal your money, that you made; and while their motives may be honorable, even admirable, you have the right to resent it, because it’s being done without your permission.

Doesn’t Pelosi see that this kind of language plays into the hands of Republicans? Obviously she’s not a “Communist.” But the rightwingers are correct to question our system of taxation, including the absence of accountability concerning how these funds are spent.

For example, in 2014, my county of Alameda placed on the ballot Measure BB, which proposed to raise $8 billion over 30 years to, among other things, repave our dreadful streets, which were massively plagued by potholes. The measure easily passed. Now, four years later, the streets remain as pothole-dotted as ever, maybe worse. Just three days ago, the Chronicle reported on a new nationwide study that concluded that San Francisco and Oakland have “the worst roads” in America. So what happened to Measure BB money? Nobody knows. There’s no transparency, no accountability—and still our local cities and counties ask voters for more and more money to fund schemes that nobody understands and that result in solutions no one can see.

Related to this is another proposition on the November ballot here in Oakland, Measure AA. This would levy an additional parcel tax on homeowners of $198 per year, making it one of the most punitive and regressive parcel taxes in the city’s history. Its supporters claim that the lion’s share of money will be used for “early education” and something called “The Oakland Promise Fund.” Both of those things sound very nebulous to me. I used to be a reporter for the Oakland Tribune, and investigated some of these local non-profit organizations that are given money by the City for high-sounding goals, but that too often turn into un-transparent “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” schemes that are a complete waste of time and border on fraud. The oversight of how Measure AA’s funds are spent would be entrusted to a Citizens’ Oversight Commission” that, I guarantee you, will be hand-picked by AA’s backers and comprised of sympathetic auditors who would be loath to find anything wrong with AA’s functioning.

I realize that I’ve become something of an anti-taxer, which may be surprising in view of my disgust with the Republican Party and its current fuhrer. But really, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Too often, Democrats and liberals see hard-working people like myself as a piggy bank for every scheme they can devise to extort money for a pet project. But I think people are wising up. The Chronicle recently reported that the city’s voters are in favor of helping the homeless “until they see the cost of Proposition C.” Then support starts plummeting. It used to be that San Francisco was the most liberal city in America and that taxing big corporations was a shoo-in among voters. But the city’s demographics are changing. Asians aren’t terribly enamored of corporate taxes, which they see as inflationary and job-threatening, nor are they fond of parcel taxes, which hit them disproportionately since so many Asians are homeowners. Then, too, Millennials working in tech are justifiably horrified by the thought that (for instance) Jack Dorsey would even float the idea of taking Twitter and Square out of San Francisco if Prop C passes (which is why the city’s Mayor, London Breed, is against Prop C).

These are legitimate concerns. Government cannot go on sticking its fingers into people’s pockets forever and not have there be dire consequences and political backlashes. Nancy Pelosi may have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag with her ill-timed and imprudent remark. Her handlers need to rein her in, but more importantly, Democrats need to get a grip on their obsession with raising taxes before they drive moderates like me right out of the Democratic Party.

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