Voters May Tax Tech Companies To Fight Homelessness Some big tech companies in the Bay Area have embraced the idea that tax hikes on big business are necessary to tackle problems like homelessness in the region.

Voters May Tax Tech Companies To Fight Homelessness

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Voters in San Francisco are considering raising taxes on the city's biggest companies, like Twitter and Uber, to pay for services for homeless people. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Guy Marzorati has more.

GUY MARZORATI, BYLINE: As it tried to climb out of the Great Recession, San Francisco changed its tax policies to help tech companies grow in the city. But like in LA and Seattle, the boom led to higher housing costs, which contributed to the worsening homeless crisis. So now San Francisco is deciding whether to change its tax policy again - this time, to raise taxes on certain corporations.

MARC BENIOFF: This is an extraordinary moment where we're in a crisis.

MARZORATI: That's Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. His cloud-computing company is the city's largest employer. And he is, surprisingly, the biggest advocate for the tax hike. Proposition C would use the new tax money to pay for things like rental assistance and shelters. And not only is Benioff donating millions to the Yes on Prop C campaign, he's calling out other local CEOs who have opposed Prop C.

BENIOFF: What I've found is there's two kinds of people in San Francisco. There's people who are willing to give. And there's those who won't give at all, no matter what.

MARZORATI: Benioff specifically called out Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who says the tax would unfairly punish some smaller tech companies. In years past, the city specifically focused on helping these smaller companies grow and eventually go public while staying in the city.

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MARZORATI: One of San Francisco's biggest tax breaks got companies like Twitter and Uber to move here to the city's mid-market neighborhood. On a weekday morning, you can see workers head to the office to start the day and homeless residents sitting on the ground nearby.

Jennifer Friedenbach, head of the Coalition On Homelessness in San Francisco, says the neighborhood hasn't changed for the better.

JENNIFER FRIEDENBACH: I think the most dramatic change has been displacement of people who were living here. And so we've had mass evictions of folks in this area. We've had real increases in rent.

MARZORATI: Friedenbach says the massive federal tax cut for corporations has made it easier to ask big companies to pay more to fix local problems.

FRIEDENBACH: Now is the moment. And we can't predict that this same moment will happen in the future.

MARZORATI: But not everyone sees the proposed tax hike, or even this neighborhood, the same.

JIM LAZARUS: We're standing here with hundreds of people walking to and from places of work. The street looks good today.

MARZORATI: Jim Lazarus is with San Francisco's Chamber of Commerce. He says businesses already pay an outsized amount of taxes and extra costs to stay in the region.

LAZARUS: At some point, the straw breaks the camel's back, and some chief financial officer says, when the lease comes up, we're leaving town.

MARZORATI: That kind of threat actually happened in Seattle earlier this year. The city approved a new business tax. Amazon threatened to mount a repeal campaign, and the city council backed down and undid the tax. Molly Turner, who teaches business at UC Berkeley, says the economic boom in the Bay Area has motivated advocates and local governments to push ahead with tax increases.

MOLLY TURNER: I think there's certainly an inspiration to take advantage of the enormous prosperity we have in the region while we have it.

MARZORATI: If there's any risk, Turner says, it's that a future economic bust could make the money raised by the tax evaporate. For NPR News, I'm Guy Marzorati in San Francisco.

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