money.jpg*That Would Be Illegal

In politics, as with life, one must give in order to get. That poetry’s been in motion in San Francisco politics for the better part of a month: Mayor Gavin Newsom repeatedly said he would not sign the city’s budget unless the Board of Supervisors dropped from consideration several charter amendments that, if passed by voters in November, would have taken away some appointment powers from the Mayor.

And last night, deals were made and compromise reached when progressive supervisors finally agreed to drop the offending measures in exchange for Newsom’s pledge that he’d sign their budget.

No big deal, right? Depends who you ask: for some, this compromising is akin to “vote-trading,” wherein a politician chooses to vote a certain way in exchange for something else. This is a problem because vote-trading — “offering or promising to vote for or against an ordinance or resolution in exchange for another vote on the same or another matter” — is illegal under state law.

This is partly why the budget negotiations raised the hackles of Supervisor Chris Daly, who publicly suggested during budget negotiations late Tuesday — after Board President David Chiu and Budget and Finance Committee chairman John Avalos spent nearly four hours with Newsom behind closed doors, hammering out a deal — that his colleagues were trading votes with the Mayor.

“I would like to congratulate the Mayor of San Francisco for successfully holding three charter amendments hostage during a budget negotiation,” Daly said. “It’s not only illegal, but it’s the wrong course in terms of good government… it is clear that it is illegal for members of the legislative body to be doing this.”

Despite Daly’s protestations, the Board voted to approve the budget as brokered via the closed-door dealmaking 10-1, with Daly the lone dissenter.

Is it odd that a sponsor of a law or bill would suddenly abandon support for that bill or law in return for something else? Well, not really: it’s called compromising. Or to put it another way: it’s called politics. This is how stuff gets done; how could it be illegal?

“Horse-trading” — as it’s also known — has been illegal since 2006, but nobody has ever been successfully prosecuted for trading votes, according to the City Attorney’s Office. In San Francisco, politicians have at times accused one another of trading votes, but never without merit, according to Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner.

In sum, the law appears to be something irate or jilted pols wave about when feeling irate or jilted, but not much more than that.

As written, the law only applies to the legislative branch of government, not the executive branch. Even if it did apply to the executive branch, can anyone imagine a world where District Attorney Kamala Harris would prosecute Newsom for vote-trading? The Appeal cannot.

But the charter amendments weren’t the only offending legislation Newsom has asked supervisors to make go away: he’s also anti-tax measure. Supervisors have introduced three tax measures — a tax on property transfers, a tax on parking on valet services, and a combo payroll/commercial real estate rental tax – and all are still alive.

As for them, nothing yet is certain, except that Newsom hates them and the Board will at best have a tough time sending them forward.

“I expect we’ll see [on the November ballot] a combo of all [three tax measures], or none, or everything in between,” Avalos told The Appeal via text message. For their parts, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi — the sponsor of the parking tax measure — says he has no plans to back down, and an aide to Supervisor David Chiu — the sponsor of the business taxes — essentially said everything is on the table as far as deal-making goes.

“We’re weighing how to proceed… but David (Chiu) from the beginning has said that [the taxes] are good public policy,” said the aide, Judson True, “but he has also said from the beginning that not every tax measure should go forward.”

So there you go: something’s got to go, nobody’s yet sure what, and in any event, it’s not vote trading: it’s compromise, also known as “business.”

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