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Milk Shake-Up: Harvey Milk's Tax on Real Estate Speculators Doesn't Look Like the New One 

Tuesday, Aug 12 2014

Wrapping oneself in the flag may fly elsewhere. But, in this city, the preferred political cloth is the shroud of Harvey Milk.

Supervisor Eric Mar earlier this summer introduced an anti-speculation tax on San Francisco residential property. The measure — which applies to multiunit buildings of 30 or fewer dwellings — would ding a speculator who flips such a complex within a year's time with a tax of 24 percent of the sales price. This tax decreases by two percent a year down to 14 percent in year five.

Barring unforeseen lunacy, voters will have their say on the matter come November. And they may be moved to hear that, just prior to his murder, Supervisor Milk, too, was readying an anti-speculation tax. The current iteration has been portrayed by its backers as the culmination of Milk's curtailed political legacy.

That's a hell of a line. But, alas, it's a hell of a stretch. A perusal of Milk's legislation reveals the measure he was pushing does not closely resemble what's being proposed today, in his name.

Milk's 1978 legislation was far more directed. Rather than extracting a hefty tax on the overall sales price of the property, it would have touched only the difference between the buying and selling prices of the property — minus any improvements the so-called speculator put into it.

This is a tremendous distinction. Milk's proposal also would have applied for only three years — though, it warrants mentioning, the tax on "speculative profits" would have been 80 percent in year one and 60 percent in years two and three.

So, Milk's measure manages to be simultaneously both far more and far less punitive than today's proposition. But, in the end, it's vastly different legislation from a vastly different time.

Voters will have their say come November. The merit of Mar's proposal will be their call. But allusions to Milk should be taken with a grain of salt.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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