Ed Lee faces mayoral dilemma on San Francisco measures 

‘Mayor Lee is banning all consultants who are working on mayoral campaigns from working on his ballot measures,” said the email I got exactly one month ago from a local consultant.

In the following weeks, I got confirmation from other consultants and politicians alike that Mayor Ed Lee had, in fact, made it clear he wanted to shield his three ballot measures — pension reform, the streets bond and the sales tax — from the bizarre slapfight that is the mayor’s race. Positioning this package of ballot measures as the final act of selflessness from our adorable, nonpolitical and departing interim mayor seemed like a reasonable strategy. And since no one wants to read about reasonable strategies, I didn’t write about it.

For example, despite the fact that Supervisor David Chiu had already been pushing for a street-repair bond back in 2009, Supervisor Scott Wiener was the person who guided the mayor’s new version of the streets bond proposal through the Board of Supervisors. Why? Sources tell me that, in keeping with his stance of shielding the good government measures from the mayor’s race, Lee asked Chiu to refrain from taking a leadership role. Chiu agreed. “The measures that will be on the November ballot are too important to the future of San Francisco to be connected to, or controlled by, any mayoral candidate,” said Chiu.

Again, all of this was just fine as long as Lee was not running for mayor.

But now, signs point to Lee jumping into the race. And if he does, oh boy, he’ll have some explaining to do. Having made sure no other candidate can lay claim to any of these ballot measures, Lee stands to be the sole beneficiary of the money flowing in to promote those measures. Like cussing in church, this may be legal but it ain’t right. Picture a pension reform flier with a smiling Ed Lee on the front of it. It’s not an “Ed Lee for Mayor” flier per se, but it would help his campaign. And those pro-ballot measure funds aren’t subject to the same limits as campaign contributions.

The alternative is for Lee to distance himself from each proposal. In that case, pension reform will continue to be championed by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, but the sales tax and streets bond proposals would be without a team captain — a dire situation because each of those measures needs a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

Thanks to his tightfisted ownership, there is no way for Lee to jump into the mayoral mudfight without getting these three reform measures dirty too.

Email us voter guides, but hold the spam

I suppose it should be no surprise that the very politicians who want to get their grubby little hands on our personal information so they can assault us with campaign material also have made it law that the Department of Elections has to give over that information when requested by the government, journalists, universities or campaigns.

According to John Arntz, director of the Department of Elections, state law requires the department to hand over all voter names, addresses and voting history when requested by those certain groups.

Writing down a phone number or email address on your voter registration card is optional, but if you do it, be prepared to receive robocalls and incessant emails from candidates. (I’m talking to you, Phil Ting.)

As the Board of Supervisors considers a law proposed by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi that would allow folks to receive voter guides by email (instead of the wheelbarrow that is usually necessary), it raises the following question: Will people sign up for this service if they know that their emails will  — and must — be given to political campaigns?

I could not be more on board with this email voter guide system, which, Arntz tells me, can be up and running in time for the November election. But without a way to assure people that their email addresses will be private, voter usage will likely be limited.

I encourage you all to call your representatives in Sacramento and demand that the state law be changed to allow persons to designate phone numbers and email addresses as “Private, for Department of Elections use only.”

But you should do it from a pay phone.

Proposed sales tax increase won’t hurt — unless it does

Today the Board of Supervisors will vote to put a 10-year, 0.5 percent sales tax on the November ballot. It will need a two-thirds majority by voters to be enacted. You may recall that a statewide 1 percent sales tax expired July 1. Believing the “you’re used to paying about this much in sales tax, so it won’t hurt a bit” theory, Mayor Ed Lee quickly got the 0.5 percent local sales tax increase ready for the election.

If the state introduces a sales tax at any time in the next five years, this local tax would cease, therefore preventing a net increase. (The Board of Supervisors decides what to do if the state sales tax goes up after five years.) When I asked state politics guru Brian Leubitz whether the state is likely to increase the sales tax, he explained, “Given the Republican obstinance over revenue, a legislative sales tax increase seems unlikely.” A tax increase can be done by voter initiative, but that method is more likely to yield something like a tax on millionaires than a sales tax.

Thus, if passed by the voters, this local tax will probably not be nullified by a new state sales tax. Though if the state keeps cutting funding and forcing localities to raise taxes, at some point we should just call them state taxes.

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Melissa Griffin

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