The City That Taxed Too Much

The City That Taxed Too Much

San Francisco has added yet another tax, this one to fund a climate initiative. Though maybe it’s an overused phrase, “death by a thousand tax hikes” is still a descriptive expression, and it applies here.

The 1% surcharge being added to some diners’ checks at some restaurants is not actually a tax, since it’s not being levied by a government. Revenue goes to Restore California, “a new program that offers diners a way to directly fund carbon farming projects such as compost application, cover crop planting, tree planting and improved grazing management.”

Through their membership in Zero Foodprint, which aims to tackle “the climate crisis through better food,” restaurants are “aggregating a few cents per meal” — and, as PRI’s Tim Anaya has pointed out, virtue signaling to the crowd.

The goal is to take the program statewide. In the meantime, “the Golden Gate Restaurant Association is one of the first to implement the new surcharge,” SFGate has reported, “adding it to all of its San Francisco Restaurant Week (Jan. 22-31) businesses’ menus.”

So, it’s a private tax associated with a “collaboration between the nonprofit Zero Foodprint and California state agencies to generate more funding for agricultural climate solutions” — a private tax that helps fund government programs.

SFGate says participation by diners is “technically optional,” and “if you choose to opt in,” the restaurant “purports to make your meal more climate-friendly.” But one restaurant, Great Gold, told the hard-left Mother Jones, according to SFGate, “that after many diners commented negatively on it, the restaurant decided to drop the fee and raise prices by 1% instead, with the intention of sending that 1% to Restore California each month.”

There goes the option.

Fold the enviro-surcharge into the 6% duty restaurants charge diners to pay for government-mandated health care benefits, and then stack on the levies to support Proposition C (to fund homeless programs), and Proposition D (which takes money from ride-hailing customers’ pockets and hands it to mass transit), and the new wave of San Francisco taxes adds up.

Taken individually, they might get little notice. But the sum of their parts makes the city even less attractive for tourists and conference guests, who are already nervous about the city’s homelessness crisis, as well as residents.

It could have been worse. A proposed IPO tax that would have punished city businesses, and driven more than a few out of town, was pulled last year, while a CEO tax, which would produce “a net revenue loss for the city” if “just one major business” left, was renamed for the 2020 ballot.

San Francisco’s tax wounds are primarily self-inflicted. Voters elect tax-happy lawmakers and approve ballot measures that add new taxes. It’s the way of the Bay. Maybe residents can take comfort in that while they watch their city go the way of Detroit.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.