San Francisco voters must decide on whether to approve a new tax to combat homelessness.
Robert Alexander—Getty Images
By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
November 1, 2018

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I trick-or-treated (read: drank beer and wine with other parents) last night on a balmy and stunningly clear San Francisco evening. (The top eighth or so of the Salesforce Tower was given over to a dazzling, fiery orange light show.)

The midterm elections are rightly pre-occupying the nation. The capital of the technology industry is consumed with a far narrower vote, a ballot initiative, Proposition C, which would tax the city’s biggest businesses in order to raise an additional $300 million to combat homelessness.

I’m horribly confused as to which way to vote.

I think all ballot initiatives are bad ideas. Funding critical programs is the job of legislatures, not voters. That’s the whole point of representative democracy. California has a particularly destructive referendum history, dating to the early 20th century Progressive era, which has counterintuitively placed undo power in the hands of rich people who fund the measures that should properly be taken up by the people’s representatives.

But enough with the history lesson. This initiative is supported notably by Marc Benioff, the soon-to-be-owner of TIME magazine (but not, as many of my friends seem to think, Fortune) and CEO of Salesforce. Benioff is defying the mayor whose election he supported, London Breed, who has said the measure lacks accountability. That’s a curious argument given that the city departments she oversees will be responsible for spending the money.

Other tech billionaires, including venture capitalist Michael Moritz and entrepreneur Jack Dorsey, say simply spending more money on homelessness won’t solve the problem. It’s worth noting that Moritz, who published this essay this week, has invested in Stripe and Dorsey heads Square, two payment-processing firms whose margins are slimmer than Salesforce’s, but who’ll pay the same percentage of taxes based on gross revenues. (Benioff, who has singlehandedly turned the tide in the race with funding from his company and himself, also has opined nationally on the topic.)

I’m sick and tired of the homelessness crisis in San Francisco and the failure of political leaders to do enough about it. I have little faith the money from this measure will be spent well, and I also believe that more money is needed to combat the problem.

This stuff isn’t easy.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

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