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Meeting Information

Budget and Policy Committee

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 


(Approved:   2/19/03)

City and County of San Francisco


                                            BUDGET AND POLICY COMMITTEE    

Minutes of the Meeting Held

Friday, February 7, 2003


1.         Call to Order and Roll Call.  Commissioner Brenda Stowers, Chair, called the meeting to order at 12:00 noon.  Commissioner Alix Rosenthal and Commissioner Robert Kenealey were also present.


Flag Salute – Commissioner Kenealey led the flag salute.


2.         Public comment.  None.


3.         Discussion and possible action to recommend to the full Elections Commission whether to recommend that the Board of Supervisors amend the Municipal Elections Code to eliminate paid ballot arguments from the City’s Voter Information Pamphlet. The Municipal Elections Code requires that the pamphlet include paid ballot arguments. The Elections Commission cannot amend the Municipal Elections Code, but can recommend that the Board of Supervisors amend the code. 


Commissioner Rosenthal compiled an eight page Report of all the information and analysis she has collected on the issue.  Information from Commissioner Stowers about the finances involved, public comments from the Commission minutes, political internet chat room printouts, letters from concerned community groups and conversations City Hall workers who have historical information about the process. 


            Commissioner Rosenthal said that the Report was important because the Commission needed as much background on the subject as it could obtain before making an informed decision on a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.  Also, she wanted the Commission to forward as much information as possible to the Board so that the work of the public and the Commission regarding this issue would be fully represented to them and the Board would not need to duplicate this effort. 


            Commissioner Rosenthal summarized her Report.  She stated that the DOE budget for 2002-2003 was approximately $7.5M, not including approximately $1.6 in additional funds for the implementation of Prop. A and the run-off election last December.  The Mayor is asking the department to cut its budget by no less than 10% in the upcoming budget.  The DOE has always suffered from under-funding, and this makes the cuts more difficult.   This under-funding has led to lowered staff morale, drastic staff cuts and the loss of institutional memory.  It is estimated that $500,000 that would be saved each year in paid argument costs over and above the revenues collected for these arguments.  Efforts have been made to bring down expenses by printing on both sides of the paper, using lighter weight paper, and negotiating delivery costs with the Postal Service. 


            Paid ballot arguments were created by legislation and enacted by the Board of Supervisors on May 15, 1975.   The original intent was that these arguments would pay for themselves through fees.  The Board of Supervisors has attempted various means of fee schedules and signatures in lieu of payment for paid arguments. 


            A recent analysis showed that for every 75 cents collected in fees for paid ballot arguments, another 25 cents was needed to cover costs.  This additional cost was paid out of the DOE’s budget.  It should be mentioned that signatures in lieu of payment present more problems for the department.  These signatures must be verified y contacting each signer to ensure the validity of the signatures.  This requires more staff time. 


            Commissioner Rosenthal stated that based on her research, she is convinced that it is impossible to make paid ballot arguments pay for themselves.  Once fees are raised, more signatures are obtained in lieu of paying the fees.   Commissioner Stowers stated that this demonstrates to her that no matter what the price, people want to put their “two cents” in the VIP – that they will go to any means to accomplish this.  It was also noted that there are professional services who are paid to collect signatures.


The options compiled for the Report were as follows: taking the paid ballot arguments out of the VIP; changing the fee structure to cover costs; delegating fee setting to the Director of Elections; limiting the number of argument submissions per submitting party; decreasing the value of signatures submitted in lieu of a fee; moving the deadline for submissions further away from Election Day; and providing for paid “appearances” instead of arguments. (The Report is attached to these minutes).


Commissioner Rosenthal MOVED that the Committee recommend to the full Commission that paid ballot arguments be eliminated from the VIP.  SECONDED by Commissioner Kenealey. 


Discussion:  Commissioner Kenealey said that as he understood it, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that authorized the inclusion into the VIP of paid ballot arguments and therefore, the Committee is recommending that the Commission recommend to the Board of Supervisors that it repeal that section of the City’s Election Code. Chairperson Stowers agreed.  Commissioner Kenealey asked if the costs in the Report included mailing charges.  Commissioner Stowers said it did.  Commissioner Rosenthal asked if the costs included languages other than English.  Commissioner Stowers said that it covered the costs for the last election, November 2002, that included English, Chinese and Spanish.  She said Acting Director Arntz had been so successful in keeping costs down that he was able to produce a pamphlet in two additional languages at a lower cost than when the department had only printed it in one language.  Commissioner Rosenthal complemented Acting Director Arntz on his negotiations with the post office that helped to bring these costs down.


Commissioner Rosenthal said that if paid ballot arguments were to be eliminated, she felt that another solution would arise if there was a demand for it.  She said this solution may come from the Guardian, the Chronicle or some other publishing company but neighborhood voices would not be silenced.  Commissioner Kenealey agreed and said that when he votes, he reads the proposition, the controller’s statement and the ballot simplification committee statement.  These, he said, are very important. 


Commissioner Rosenthal stated that originally, paid ballot arguments were to be self-supporting.  They have been in existence since 1975 and they have never been self-supported, especially when one looks at the signature in lieu policy.  Commissioner Kenealey asked what was the basis of the Board’s authorization of paid ballot arguments.  Commissioner Rosenthal stated that originally the Board was concerned with the official arguments rather than paid ballot arguments.  The legislation in 1975 also originated the official arguments.  The Board gave itself the discretion to choose the opponent and proponent arguments without giving itself any objective criteria.  The Board had everyone submit what they thought the proponent and opponent arguments should be and the arguments not selected would be included in the Voter Information Pamphlet for a fee.


Commissioner Rosenthal reminded the Commissioners that another aspect of the financial cost of providing paid ballot arguments is litigation. 


Commissioner Kenealey confirmed that the decision the Commission was considering was about “paid ballot arguments” and asked if arguments would still be submitted by the Board of Supervisors who would then select the “yes” and “no” ballot argument?  Commissioner Rosenthal responded that the official arguments would still continue.


Commissioner Rosenthal asked that the Committee seriously consider recommending “paid appearances”.  She said that there would be a “no” and a “yes” sign up list with the names of groups and individuals who, after paying a fee, would have their names listed.  Since the pages of the listings of these names would probably only be one page per argument, the length of the VIP could be better predicted.   Commissioner Rosenthal said that, for her personally, knowing who was for an argument was more informative than what the paid argument said.  The Commissioner said that she would be willing to offer this suggestion as a friendly amendment. 


Commissioner Stowers said she agreed from a cost perspective.  In her research she found that it takes 1000 hours of staff support, or $75,000, to format, reformat and unformat the paid ballot arguments.   Handling the arguments, she said, is incredibly labor intensive. 


Commissioner Kenealey said that he would support the “paid appearance” proposal.  


Commissioner Rosenthal added that submissions for “paid appearances” could simply require organizations and citizens to check the boxes on a form to indicate what proposals they supported.  This would be easier for staff to handle than accepting hundreds of paid ballot arguments in various formats.



            Commissioner Kenealey added that although signatures in lieu would still need to be provided and those signatures would need to be checked, there would still be a savings in printing, postage, and time staff needed to format arguments.  But this solution would offer the Commission a remedy to citizens instead of cutting them off from having paid arguments.


            Commissioner Stowers said that from her research, using the “paid appearances” would eliminate approximate 100 pages from the VIP. 


Commissioners Rosenthal and Kenealey withdrew their MOTIONS and made a NEW MOTION:  That the Budget and Policy Committee recommend to the Elections Commission that it recommend to the Board of Supervisors that paid ballot arguments be eliminated from the Voter Information Pamphlet and that paid appearances be substituted in their place. 


Public Comment:  None.



MOTION 2-07-03-1 Budget and Policy Committee recommend to the Elections Commission that it recommend to the Board of Supervisors that paid ballot arguments be eliminated from the Voter Information Pamphlet and that paid appearances be substituted in their place.  PASSED unanimously.


Commissioners Stowers and Kenealey agreed to send Commissioner Rosenthal’s full report, an explanation of why the Committee voted as it has and a general description of a “paid appearance” form to the Commission with the Committee’s recommendation.  Commissioner Rosenthal suggested that the explanation for the vote and general description of the form could be done in an oral report.  Commissioner Stowers agreed to provide an oral report to the Commission. 


Commissioner Rosenthal added that one more argument for eliminating the paid ballot argument is that organizations often pay campaign professionals to draft their paid ballot arguments.  Organizations would not have this cost if the Board of Supervisors chose to eliminate the arguments and accept the Commission’s recommendation, should the Commission accept the Committee’s findings.


4.         Public Comment – None.



ADJOURNMENT at 12:55 pm