Mission tech workers reacted to a proposal for a tech tax to curb the city’s growing inequality with comments ranging from skepticism to wondering why such a tax had not been imposed earlier.
Mission-based tech worker Erini Blakey said that while the tax would rightfully “force tech companies to be good citizens,” she questioned its efficacy since it targets only companies with payrolls in San Francisco.
“So many [tech employees] commute south for work, yet they live in the city and contribute to the issues that we are dealing with here,” said Blakey. “I just feel like it doesn’t completely tackle the issue.”
Added another tech worker who asked that his name not be used, “Any well-established company that claims they want to be a part of the community should be held accountable when that community is suffering. These companies make huge profits for the most part. Asking them for a small percentage to invest in issues such as homelessness now, it feels like a little too late.”
Others said that tech companies should not be singled out.
“I don’t think you should blame only the tech companies because they are successful right now, but all big companies in San Francisco,” said tech worker Sam Cebo. “There are plenty of tech companies that are making an effort to do good by their communities.”
Housing advocates have long called on wealthy tech companies to “pay their fair share” by investing in the communities in which they operate. Last month, three city supervisors launched an effort to turn that call into city policy by introducing an initiative that would impose a 1.5 percent payroll tax on tech employers that make at least $1 million a year in gross income.
If approved by at least six supervisors next month, the proposal will move to the November ballot. Already, Mayor Ed Lee and others are campaigning against such a measure, which they call a “job-killing” ballot initiative.
Nick Pagoulatos, legislative aide to Supervisor Eric Mar, who introduced the the measure in late June, said that the well-being of all in San Francisco, “shouldn’t just fall on the government sector.”
Mar’s office estimates that the tax would generate some $120 million annually to be allocated towards the city’s housing and homeless needs.
“Is $120 million even enough?” Another tech worker, who gave his name as Tim C., wanted to know. “I am not sure that money is the right way to solve the problem of homelessness or the city’s housing shortage.” He suggested that instead the government come up with ways to “incentivise tech companies to invest in their communities locally.”
Others interviewed wondered how far tech dollars would go in solving the city’s long-festering problems, such as homelessness.
“The issue is incredibly complex and it’s hard to believe that more money has been the only missing ingredient for all these years,” said Nipul Patel, COO of the Mission-based company Townsquared. “Businesses of all sizes and industries are eager to do their part, and there is so much more that compassionate people can do than merely contribute money.”
But proponents of the tax say that past incentives, such as tax breaks that have allowed tech giants such as Twitter to get breaks by setting up in the city have not necessarily inspired the companies to mitigate the impacts that their presence has had on the city’s poor and working class communities.
Pagoulatos agreed that the tax is “no magic solution” to the city’s deep rooted problems, but rather an attempt to “level the playing field” by focusing on companies “who have had tax breaks and tremendous success.”
Billy Leet, a Google employee, also agreed that “good citizenship” must sometimes be mandated.
“A tax is a more mandated way to part with your money voluntarily,” he said.
Keren Flavell, the CEO of a Mission-based app startup, said that it was about time for wealthy companies to pay up, given the state of the city’s affairs.
“This mind blowing disparity between wealth and poverty is a freakish situation that the city is dealing with,” said Flavell. “The companies with their names on buildings, they really run the city now. They should take more pride in it.”
A mandated tax, she said, would help flip “tech’s focus on internal culture” outwards and in the long-run benefit those companies banking on continued success in San Francisco.
“The tax could work in favor of these tech companies as well, by allowing the city to clean up the streets and making it more enjoyable for [their employees].”