Tech Billionaires Duke It Out on Twitter Over Proposed 'Homelessness Tax' in San Francisco


A man stands outside his tent on Division Street in San Francisco in 2016. San Francisco voters will decide in November 2018 whether to tax large businesses to pay for homeless and housing services in a city struggling with income inequality.
Photo: Eric Risberg (AP)

Politicians and tech executives are split on San Francisco’s Proposition C, which would impose an annual 0.175 to 0.69 percent tax on businesses with over $50 million in gross receipts and would double the city’s current spending on services for the homeless. And while many have spoken out about their position ahead of Tuesday’s vote—including but not limited to Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who opposes Prop C—two tech company heads are duking it out on Twitter.

Mark Pincus, the billionaire founder behind American game developer Zynga, tweeted Saturday that Prop C was “the dumbest, least thought out prop ever” and instructed his followers to “get the facts and vote no.” Responding to the tweet early Sunday morning, CEO of Salesforce and Prop C proponent Marc Benioff chimed in, asking Pincus to detail a plan for addressing the city’s homelessness and requesting information about what Zynga, in particular, is doing for them now.

Both Mar(c/k)s kept the debate alive in a thread, with Pincus arguing about fairness and Benioff seemingly having to explain how the measure will work and how taxation will be calculated.

Benioff has poured $8 million in personal and corporate money into ushering the measure along, according to CBS-affiliate KPIX-TV, which reported that if passed the proposition would bump annual spending on homelessness services from $385 million to $685 million, or more than $1.8 million per day. Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco Systems, also supports Prop C, as does Representative Nancy Pelosi.

The Financial Times reported that the proposed tax would, among other things, allocate up to $75 million for mental health services and add 1,000 beds in homeless shelters, which it notes may be enough “to cover the current waiting list and greatly reduce the number of people sleeping rough.”

“We’re all navigating this homeless crisis,” Benioff told ABC-affiliate KGO-TV. “And look it’s like this: It’s a crisis of homelessness, it’s a crisis of cleanliness. You’ve seen the national stories about our city, it’s embarrassing. Is this turning into a crisis of inaction or indifference? In our city, that’s unprecedented.”

It’s true that the homelessness crisis in San Francisco needs a solution and fast. But the measure’s opposition party has found support in several high-profile, wealthy tech leaders. Billionaires like Dorsey, venture capitalist Michael Moritz, and Stripe founder Patrick Collision are all opponents of Prop C. As the Atlantic reported Sunday, some of these tech behemoths have contributed large sums of money to oppose Prop C.

Stripe, the payments company, has given $419,000 to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce group opposing Prop C, according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which tracks election spending. Lyft gave $100,000, Visa gave $225,000, and Square gave $25,000. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, gave $125,000; Paul Graham, an entrepreneur who founded YCombinator, gave $150,000, Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist with the firm Sequoia Capital, gave $100,000.

Opponents of Prop C argue it is the wrong way to handle the city’s widespread homelessness. Jess Montejano, the campaign spokesperson for “No on Prop C,” told KGO-TV on Friday that the opposition doesn’t think that doubling the homelessness budget without additional reforms or accountability is “a serious approach to dealing with San Francisco’s most serious problem.”

Last month, Dorsey tweeted a thread in which he outlined his reason for opposing Proposition C, namely that San Francisco Mayor London Breed opposes it, but apparently also because multiple of his companies might be taxed disproportionately relative to larger companies. Obviously, that wouldn’t be fair for someone whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $5.6 billion! (He also tweeted that he “could be wrong about this,” vowing to “make it right” if he is.)

For her part, Breed said she opposes the measure in part because it lacked inclusive public process and “does not audit the homelessness funds we are already spending nor provide stable legal footing for its own funds.” Conversely, private organizations have publicly wondered why they’re still being asked to fund homelessness initiatives if the city doesn’t need the money.

According to the Financial Times, the tax measure has a fair chance of winning, which the site says demonstrates how San Francisco’s homelessness problem “has tipped from perennial nuisance and source of local embarrassment into an acknowledged crisis.”

San Franciscans will have the chance to cast their vote on Tuesday, Nov. 6.



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