Battle grows over proposed SFO-related tax hikes


Though it's called San Francisco International Airport, SFO is actually in San Mateo County. And now, the cash-strapped supervisors of that county want to tax the airport to balance their budget.

San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine described the airport as an "ATM of sorts" for San Francisco. "They take out large bills, and we just want some change," he said.

In a bid to close San Mateo County's budget shortfall, supervisors are pushing three ballot measures that would tax the hotels, parking lots and car rentals around the airport.

"If this does not pass, it blows a $13 million hole in our budget, and we will be forced to cut health programs, programs for people who are the most needy in our county, and we will be forced to make cuts in public safety," said San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley.

Similar measures were narrowly defeated three years ago. This time, supporters have mounted a campaign, saying new taxes are their only option.

"We've cut, we've done everything we can to cut, and at the same time we have to do some revenue enhancement," said Horsley.

With a budget of only $60,000, supporters of the measure say they're being outspent 6 to 1 by opponents. Those opponents include rental car companies, which believe a new tax would be bad for business.

A Hertz spokeswoman said the 2.5 percent tax could give travelers sticker shock and hurt the whole tourism industry.

The San Francisco Travel Association agrees.

"Higher taxes mean higher prices, and when the prices increase for tourism-related products, travelers go to different destinations," said Jon Ballesteros of the San Francisco Travel Association.

The association commissioned a study that shows SFO would have the second-highest rental car tax in the nation after Chicago. That could lead to a 100,000 fewer car rental days per year, the association says.

They also surveyed convention planners.

"Of these meeting planners, 42 percent said they would look for other locations to go to and reconsider where they would go rather than come to San Francisco," Ballesteros said.

Supporters of the ballot measures aren't buying it.

"This notion that people are not going to come to San Francisco? That's ridiculous. San Francisco's a world-class city. We're glad that it's our neighbor. They're still going to come here," Horsley said.

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