Monday, August 22, 2011

Questions and Answers Regarding Measure I, Oakland's New Proposed Parcel Tax

Q: What is Measure I?
A: Measure I is a new parcel tax that will cost individual homeowners an additional $80.00 per year for five years. Renters will also be subject to the new tax, based on a "pass through" provision.

Q: If the measure passes, what will the money be spent on?
A: Pretty much whatever the City wants. The way the measure is worded, it can be spent on "payment of any costs and expenses related to" parks, recreational services, youth violence prevention, libraries, fire and police services. Since this is what the City already spends most of its money on, there are virtually no restrictions on how the money can be spent.

Q: What about the Resolution that was passed recently allocating the funds?
A: The Council has admitted that the Resolution is not legally binding. The City could reallocate the funds to other services and purposes at any time.

Q: How much in taxes do we already pay?
A: More than practically any other city in Alameda County. For a $500,000 home in Oakland, property owners are already paying about $750.00 a year in annual assessments. This new tax would bring the total to around $830.00. On top of that, Oakland homeowners pay a much higher percentage of property taxes (known as "ad valorem" taxes) - around $1500 more annually than Hayward and San Leandro. We pay a much higher "ad valorem" rate than even Piedmont, Berkeley and Alameda! Our total taxes are over $1700 higher a year than even San Francisco!

Q: What about renters? How much extra will they have to pay?
A: Owners of multiple unit buildings will have to pay $54.66 per unit, and may charge renters half this amount, i.e. $27.33 annually. For units exempt from rent control (e.g. units in newer buildings and single family homes) you could be liable for the full amount of the tax, i.e. $54.66 for an apartment and $80.00 for a rented single family home).

Q: Some City officials are saying that this tax is a "fair share." Is it?
A: No. Oaklanders are already paying far more in taxes than in neighboring cities, for far inferior city services. In addition, while the unions did make some concessions, most of these concessions were only for two or three years, and this tax is for five years. Is that "fair"? Also, the unions got a lot in return for their concessions. Oakland residents, however, are being promised NOTHING in return for paying additional taxes.

Q: Do all City officials support this new tax?
A: No! There are two City Councilmembers who are openly opposed to the new tax. Other City officials have indicated that they are inclined to vote against it.

Q: Proponents are claiming that the money will be used for specific things, like restoring services at senior centers, fixing potholes, police technology, and park maintenance staff. Is that true?
A: That is what they are claiming in their arguments, but read the Measure - there is nothing in Measure I that says anything about actual improvement of services in these areas.

Q: Proponents are also claiming the money will be used to help fund a police academy. Is that true?
A: Again, there is nothing in Measure I that says anything about paying for or even holding a police academy. The City can collect the additional taxes and continue to allow the police force to drop.

Q: Why should I trust the City with my money?
A: You shouldn't. The City does not deserve your trust. What happened with Measure Y is a good example. In 2004, voters approved Measure Y, which promised 63 additional community policing officers, and full staffing at 803 officers. It took more than three years and two lawsuits for the City to hire the officers, and then we got the promised officers for less than 6 months! To add insult to injury, the City then laid off 80 officers last year, and today, staffing is at less than 670 officers. Many beats lost their problem solving officers and never got them back. Even with the oversight provisions promised by Measure Y, these abuses have occurred. This new measure will have virtually no oversight.

Q: What about libraries?
A: Libraries are another great example of how City officials have betrayed us with past parcel taxes. We are already paying over $75.00 a year for Measure Q, which promised us that our neighborhood branch libraries would be open a minimum of 6 days a week. Currently, NONE of the branch libraries are open 6 days a week!

Q: Some City leaders are claiming that more taxes are needed to help address the impacts of the "global recession." Is that true?
A: Oakland's budget problems predate the recession by many, many years. For example, voters were told back in 2004 that the City was so broke it couldn't afford a fully staffed police force, and convinced us to approve Measure Y. 2004 was the height of the economic boom! The recession is just a convenient excuse for asking us to pay for more taxes.

Q: How will rejecting this new parcel tax help Oakland?
A: Rejecting this parcel tax will let City leaders know that additional taxes on residents who are already financially strapped is not the answer. The City has no multi-year plan to fix its budget problems. Saying no to this tax will force City officials to develop a financially sound plan to enable our government to deliver the services on which we depend.

Q: Will passing this parcel tax hurt Oakland?
A: Yes. Oakland has an extremely high (15%) unemployment rate and foreclosure rate. In the last three years over 12,000 properties have gone into foreclosure. Many residents are already struggling to make ends meet. More foreclosures will mean more people losing their homes, more vacant, blighted properties, more crime, and lower property values. This is not good for Oakland.

Q: Who is supporting this new parcel tax?
A: Some of the public employee unions are supporting the tax, because your tax money helps pay City employees' salaries and extremely generous pensions and other benefits. Many non-profits are also supporting it, because they want to ensure their programs are funded and their salaries are paid. Some City leaders are also supporting it, because it is much easier to tax residents than make hard decisions and come up with a real plan to get Oakland's budget balanced.

Q: Will passing this tax solve Oakland's fiscal problems?
A: No. Oakland's fiscal problems are enormous. For example, this tax will bring in around $11 million annually. Oakland currently has a $450 million debt for a public safety pension system that it has no way of paying for (PFRS). The tax money will not make a dent in this massive debt. The parcel tax is like a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Q: Will passing this tax help expand the police force?
A: No. In fact, in the argument submitted by the proponents, they don't even mention this as a priority.

Q: Supporters say this tax will only cost 25 cents a day?
A: 25 cents a day really adds up. That's $80 a year, and $400 over the five year duration of the measure. In addition, consider the fact that the typical homeowner is already paying between $7000 and $8000 a year! Even if this isn't a lot of money for some residents, it is a lot for others.

Q: What level of support is needed to pass another parcel tax?
A: Like all parcel taxes, it requires a 2/3 majority to pass, not just 50%.

Q: How likely is it that this tax will pass?
A: A poll in District 4 shows that only around 43% of voters in that area are likely to support it.
But in order to defeat it, we need everybody we can to make the effort to submit their ballot!

Q: But does Oakland have any other options?
A: Yes, there are lots of other options. They aren't necessary easy, but a new parcel tax will do nothing to actually solve Oakland's serious financial problems.

Q: Supporters are accusing opponents of using a "Tea Party" approach?
A: Many of the opponents of this new parcel tax actually supported Measure Y, and Oaklanders already pay far more than their fair share of taxes, so that is an unfair accusation. A tax that would guarantee specific levels of improved basic services, and would not result in the same sort of broken promises as Measure Y, might make sense, but this one does not.

Q: The City claims they've already made lots of spending cuts. Is that true?
A: Most of the union concessions were in the form of furlough days. What that means is that even though City workers get paid less, they also work less. Real and fair cuts would require an accurate and current salary and benefit analysis, and possibly reductions in total pay and benefits without a corresponding cut in hours.