Treasurer's debate report

I went to the debate for City Treasurer that I posted about on Friday. It was at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, and was pretty small and brief. The notice I forwarded said the "leading four" candidates had been invited, but only two were present. These were the incumbent Treasurer, Newsom appointee Jose Cisneros, who according to his flier seems to have the backing of a good chunk of the SF political establishment including both moderates and leftists, and challenger Manuel Valle, whose resume includes working in the Treasurer's office for seven years and being the chief accountant at the Fire Department and at Rec & Park, and briefly at the Port of San Francisco. The audience was about 15 people or so, and the event lasted about 45 minutes.

  I got to ask one question, which I posed to both candidates, in approximately the following form: "People tend to see the Treasurer as someone who understands money and taxes and has a certain amount of credibility on these issues, so that you can have an impact speaking out on them even if you don't set policy. So I would like to hear whether each of you thinks that residents, visitors, and businesses in San Francisco are paying about the right amount in taxes, too little, or too much."

  Cisneros answered first -- by going into a discussion of how the city collects revenue primarily through assessments on property, and what factors needed to be weighed in deciding how much revenue to obtain, such as budgetary needs and the importance of keeping a financial reserve. Even after I reminded him that I wanted to hear his personal opinion on tax levels, he still didn't really answer the question, saying it was a "complicated" issue. He seems very much the cautious, pragmatic politician, and I have no idea what his core beliefs may be, if he has any. The one bright point was that he called California's 1979's property-tax-cutting Proposition 13 "the right thing to do," at least for residential taxes.

  Valle was a bit more forthcoming. In response to my question, he said that individuals are taxed too much, but corporations aren't taxed enough. He said we are "carrying the ball" for corporations. I couldn't pin him down to my complete satisfaction on whether he favored higher or lower rates overall, but he did state without qualification when the question was repeated that "people are paying too much taxes," and seemed to prioritize lower rates for individuals over higher rates for business. His flier also characterizes his career as "twenty years of intercession for taxpayers' rights via financial and treasury management," so he is clearly willing at a minimum to pay lip service to taxpayer interests, which many candidates are not.

  Audience member John Calder, who formerly served on the civil grand jury and seems like a pretty honest and sensible guy, if not necessarily libertarian, asked a question about Proposition F (keeping the firehouses open). I strongly suspect he also opposes the measure, although I didn't get a chance to ask him. Cisneros begged off on account of not knowing enough about the issue, but said a few words about how important firefighters are. Valle's response was more interesting. He has a thick accent (I believe he is Filipino) and it was sometimes difficult to catch everything he said, but he mentioned the dominant role of the firefighter unions, and I got the sense that he basically gets it, and would oppose Prop. F.

  Other than that, neither candidate said anything terribly interesting that I heard. Mostly it was the usual generalities and platitudes. Both of them touted helping people apply for something called the Working Families Tax Credit, which involves getting federal "earned income tax credits." I don't know whether this program involves actual tax rebates that libertarians would approve of, or bears more resemblance to welfare, as some things called "tax credits" apparently do.

  Cisneros also patted himself on the back for raising the amount of money collected by the Delinquent Revenues section of the Treasurer's office from $25 million a year two years ago to $65 million a year now. Some people might consider this a plus in a "good government" sense of not letting tax cheats get a free ride, but I look at it as a negative because it's transferring more money from the productive sector into government. Furthermore, some of the things people are being billed for are outrageous in my opinion, such as the amounts typically charged for an ambulance ride, a fire truck response, etc. Not surprisingly, it was mentioned (I forget by who) that very low percentages of money officially owed for such services is in fact collected.

  Afterward I gave both candidates, and a number of other people who were present, buttons from the Taxpayers Union. It was nice to see at least a couple people actually pinned them on right away. Cisneros was very friendly and charming in person, and had some supporters present with signs and glossy fliers, while Valle seemed considerably less polished, with homemade-looking fliers, no signs, and no explicitly visible contingent, although he seemed on good terms with the event organizers (the Asian American Political Coalition).

  Based on what I saw, I would not vote for Cisneros. I might vote for Valle, depending what else I learn about him and the other candidates in the race.

Yours in liberty,
        <<< Starchild >>>
  Outreach Director, Libertarian Party of San Francisco