With little discussion, the council unanimously approved putting a November ballot measure before city residents that would double annual business tax revenue from $12.7 million to $25.4 million. But the business tax voters will decide differs significantly from what Scott Myers-Lipton, the San Jose State University sociology professor who had led a successful 2012 campaign to raise the minimum wage in the city, had proposed last year.
Myers-Lipton was close to gathering enough signatures to qualify his measure for the ballot, but withdrew it to allow for the city compromise measure.
The measure the council approved for the ballot would increase the annual “base rate” businesses pay by $45 and then charge companies with three or more employees $30 to $60 for each worker, depending on the company’s size, capping at $150,000 a year. It would include inflation adjustments. The city’s current tax is $18 per employee for companies with eight or more workers without inflation increases and caps at $25,000.
Myers-Lipton’s proposed measure would have charged large companies based on their gross receipts, either 60 cents, 90 cents or $1.20 for every $1,000 in revenue. The model, he argued, has been successful in other large cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. A city study estimated the change would put an extra $39 million annually into the city’s pocket for services like public safety, roads and libraries.
It sounds like a typical political conversation about taxes. On one side, proponents argue that businesses should pay more, particularly when needed local services are on the line. On the other hand, proponents suggest businesses will leave and/or not locate in San Jose and instead locate in places with cheaper taxes.
Yet, does it make any difference that this tax proposal was brought forward by a sociologist? Conversations about public sociology sometimes suggest that sociologists have limited ability to bring about policy change. This would seem to be a positive example: sociologist who helped bring about a raise in the minimum wage now has a chance to help pass an increased tax on businesses. Both measures could be viewed as moves toward lessening inequality; this is a cause that many sociologists would support. At the same time, do Myers-Lipton’s moves differ much from typical liberal proposals?
Perhaps many businesses in San Jose can afford such an increase with the wealth in the area. Such a tax may not hurt very much in a thriving area compared to a struggling Rust Belt city.