Thursday, July 7, 2011

we've got a budget!?

In a city council meeting that came right down to the June 30th deadline, Mayor Quan cast the tie-breaking vote to give Oakland a budget. At least for now, the $58 million deficit is covered. Starting with one of Mayor Quan's proposals and adding and removing things, the council worked back and forth until it was down to two sides which weren't that far apart. Given the various limitations, it wasn't possible to save everything, but they finally came up with a budget.

Following the budget process has been interesting. I don't envy the council or mayor their jobs. And while I was impressed that they came up with a solution at all, I disappointed with the acrimony in some of the council meetings. As Trib columnist Tammerlin Drummond said,
"the lack of civility displayed by some Oakland City Council members toward each other and members of the public was appalling."
You can follow along with city council meetings on Twitter with the hash tag #oakmtg, and watch it on KTOP (while it still has funding), either on cable or online. Or attend them in person and join in the fun.

The real questions are about the budget itself:
  • It depends in part on concessions from some of the city unions, some of which are only tentative. And we don't know full details, other than what the firefighters are offering. Some of what has been heard is unsettling, including: Council members may no longer "support, endorse or sponsor" any proposal to change any City Charter provision relating to the police union. Mayor Quan thinks the pact is unenforceable.
  • While the libraries were mostly saved, if funding for them falls much the city won't be able to collect Measure Q funds. That would greatly reduce the funding: Measure Q provides about 60% of the library's budget.
  • The budget depends on the sale of the Kaiser Convention center for $28 million. The seller? Oakland. The buyer? Oakland. Chip Johnson calls it bizarre. The building is worth no where near that in the current market, but the city would transfer the funds from its (state budget-imperiled) redevelopment agency to the general fund. Whether the state will allow it remains to be seen.

Mayor Quan would like to pass an $80 parcel tax to help balance future budgets and restore some of the things that were cut. But as Max Allstadt said on Twitter,
Nobody should vote for a parcel tax without other much needed reforms. #oakmtg
Personally I'm wary of another parcel tax after the Measure Y debacle (i.e., the city was only supposed to collect the tax if they kept at least 802 officers; we're currently at about 637). I'm also not fond of parcel taxes in general, as they don't spread the load evenly. In any event, the city is having to call a special election (at the cost of $700,000) to try to get the voters to approve it. If it passes, it will bring in approximately $11 million a year, but it's a very big 'if'.

Deeper than the 'ifs' and 'maybes' is the fact that no real substantive changes were made. One of the underlying issues is that a large percentage of the city budget goes to public safety, yet people don't feel safe. The concessions from the unions help, but they're not a long-term fix to the problem by themselves. Then there are some of the social programs funded by Measure Y that have no accountability, yet aren't facing budget cuts the way basic services are. The $28 million sale of the Kaiser Convention Center is a one-time deal.

I don't know what all the right answers are, but I do know that the current budget doesn't address the basic problems. As council president Larry Reid said:
"I just know we're all going to be back here doing this again very soon."

Additional reading
...on the budget:

Sean Maher (Tribune)
Tammerlin Drummond (Tribune)
Chip Johnson (SFGate)
Bob Gammon (East Bay Express)
VSmoothe (A Better Oakland)

...on the parcel tax and special election:
Mayor Jean Quan (on OaklandLocal)
Ryan Phillips (Oakland North)
Matthai Kuruvila (SFGate)

...on the OPD reorg and budget:
Matthai Kuruvila (SFGate)
Harry Harris and Sean Maher (Tribune)
Chip Johnson (SFGate)
Daniel Borenstein (Tribune)

Finally, a big thank you to all those who make it possible to keep track of the goings on in Oakland: KTOP, all the people who tweet #oakmtg, and A Better Oakland, Sean Maher and Matthai Kuruvila for their reporting.


Unknown said...

Good news so far: both the police and firefighters unions have approved their concession plans.

Unknown said...

All 5 unions have approved the contracts. Yay!