When S.F. politicians play doctor 

Some policy debates just never close. Sometimes they reopen just when the policymakers thought they were safely settled, the obvious lesson being that reality has its insistent way of messing with good intentions. And sometimes they revive precisely because they deal with life and death, such issues making everyone of us behave in unpredictable ways.

In San Francisco this last year the political class thought it had health care nailed. First, because the reigning philosophy held that everyone walking the streets of The City was entitled to medical care, and because a complete municipally run system wasn’t financially feasible, the supervisors and the mayor agreed they could just force businesses to take care of it.

There is something base about this impulse: If there are not enough funds for an all-out government program, and you have the power, you simply order business to doit for you.

Protestations from the private sector fell on deaf ears. Soon enough, employers of more than 20 people were told they would be required to pay up to $1.60 for each employee-worked hour, all that money designated for The City’s health access program. Restaurateurs sued, leaving Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Mayor Gavin Newsom alternately searching for financing that might appease the beleaguered plaintiffs.

Along came Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the plan’s parent, insisting that, in the utterly impossible event the lawsuit should succeed, the board absolutely would not entertain any option but the hourly tax. He then huffed that, in such an utterly impossible event, he would take the issue to the voters, defying the restaurateurs to sue the electorate — and securing for himself a special place in the annals of arrogance.

Last November, Supervisor Chris Daly pulled off a victory for another health-related plan that he championed — this one requiring all businesses, under an hourly formula little understood, to grant paid sick leave to all employees. Proposition F, approved by 61 percent of the voters, is to go into effect Feb. 5, only the measure didn’t provide for city staff to notify businesses and didn’t anticipate any problems with compliance.

Well then, there arise questions pertaining to exempt employees not paid by the hour. There are other vexations having to do with seasonal workers. And now small businesses such as grocers fear they’ll fail under the new requirements, ceding the market to dreaded chain stores and big boxes, a consequence we dare say Daly and his youthful brigades didn’t expect.

In the recesses of memory — or did we dream it? — The City’s political class seemed to accept the necessity of producing sound economic analyses before foisting these brainstorms on us. Whatever happened to such common sense?

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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