Tax breaks to hire felons may be too radical even for San Francisco 

click to enlarge San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has drafted a plan that would give city businesses up to a $10,000 tax break if they hire a person with felony convictions. (Getty Images file photo) - SAN FRANCISCO SUPERVISOR ROSS MIRKARIMI HAS DRAFTED A PLAN THAT WOULD GIVE CITY BUSINESSES UP TO A $10,000 TAX BREAK IF THEY HIRE A PERSON WITH FELONY CONVICTIONS. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has drafted a plan that would give city businesses up to a $10,000 tax break if they hire a person with felony convictions. (Getty Images file photo)
  • San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has drafted a plan that would give city businesses up to a $10,000 tax break if they hire a person with felony convictions. (Getty Images file photo)

As if people in San Francisco needed another reason to protest, this week they got one — a proposal that would set up a new protected class of workers, felons.

Realignment appears to be taking place faster than expected.

San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi — who just happens to be in a tight, three-way race for sheriff — has come up with a novel idea to help him break from the pack. He’s taken the bold stance to draft a plan that would give city businesses up to a $10,000 tax break if they hire a person with felony convictions. He told one newspaper that ex-felons are among the “most challenged populations” in getting work.

And here I thought they were ex-journalists, former stay-at-home moms, veterans, recent college graduates and car engine assemblers.

If you thought the Twitter tax break was controversial, the convict exemption proposal all but obliterated that thought this week. Hundreds of people hit the blogosphere to condemn the idea under the general guise of “What about the other 99 percent?”

As in, the vast majority of would-be workers who do not have a criminal record but would really like a job.

And with the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent and showing no signs of decline, that’s a lot of people.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for incentives that would ease the burden on businesses and provide jobs to people who desperately need them. And let’s face it, the Board of Supervisors has not had a good record promoting job growth, since its progressive wing has spent years condemning the evils of corporations.

Still, I’m a little unclear who Mirkarimi’s target audience is. Felons can’t vote, so that’s not going to boost his election chances. And his fellow progressives generally don’t support tax breaks for businesses of any kind.

So can you be against providing tax breaks for biotech companies but somehow favor them for armed robbers and drug dealers? We can certainly look forward to that philosophical debate.

It’s something of a quandary. The compassionate residents of San Francisco would no doubt support a plan that would give people a second chance. At the same time, they might feel nervous about backing a program that would add incentive for more criminals to come to San Francisco. You want to give people a helping hand, but there are certain people you want kept far from your sons and daughters.

Under the brave new world of realignment — in which the state is making counties responsible for prisoners who before would have gone to state prisons — there will be a lot of people eligible for employment under Mirkarimi’s plan. But one of the few areas of job growth here has been in the high-tech sector. That’s not a skill set one usually finds in Soledad or Folsom prisons.

Of course, I could be getting ahead of myself here, since Mirkarimi has been known to float ideas to see if they will stick and then abandon them just as quickly. He signed on with the group that sought to repeal Care Not Cash recently but then dropped that after feeling the backlash from voters.

And who can forget his grand scheme some months back to pass a law that would deny landlords from asking tenants if they have criminal records? Perhaps his new plan is something of a play on that.

In any event, it appears he’s really focusing on his next role, assuming he can beat out Chris Cunnie and Paul Miyamoto to win the sheriff’s job.

The difficulty in singling out ex-convicts for employment is a tough sell in an environment when so many highly educated and skilled people are out of work. The general tone of people responding to the proposal ranged from surprise to “Are you out of your mind?”

This being San Francisco, however, some people wondered why there wasn’t a more specific plan to hire homeless veterans or others who haven’t been convicted of serious crimes. And more than one person suggested it might encourage law-abiding citizens to fudge their employment records regarding their criminal pasts.

But during an election year in San Francisco, we shouldn’t expect less — unless your campaign theme hinges on making it the safest city in America.

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Ken Garcia

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