Make Oakland Better Now! Begins Its 2013 Guide to the Oakland City Budget Process

Tuesday, April 2 at 5:45 p.m., Oakland City Council begins its budget process for fiscal years 2013-15 with a budget workshop. Today, Make Oakland Better Now! begins a series of posts to help Oaklanders understand the budget and the budget process.

Earlier this year, the Make Oakland Better Now! board agreed our primary focus for now will be public safety. One thing we learned long ago is that budget facts drive just about everything. If you don’t understand the city budget, you can’t understand public safety policy. And if don’t fix what’s wrong with the city’s budget, you can’t fix what’s wrong with public safety, either.  Put simply:  this budget process is going to be a critical element in determining if, how and when Oakland can restore it police department.

With that in mind, we are publishing a series of blog posts on the upcoming Oakland budget process.  We will start with some simple introductory facts about the process.  Some readers will already know these, but we want everybody to have the same baseline knowledge.

After the introduction we’ll start getting deeper in the policy weeds.  We’ll talk about the current challenges. We’ll look at ideas for fixing what’s broken both procedurally and substantively.  We’ll talk about how to develop a budget that conforms to the city’s priorities.

After that, we will look at better ways for developing a city budget that serves Oakland residents’ priorities.

Basic Budget Process 101

Oakland’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.  The city’s budget constitutes city council’s spending authorization to the administration and all departments for two fiscal years.

Oakland’s City Charter requires the Mayor to present a proposed two-year budget.  This occurs in the Spring of odd-numbered years.  Council debates, modifies and passes the budget, which legally must be balanced and take effect on July 1 of the same odd-numbered year.

The mayor’s budget makes revenue assumptions based on historical patterns, observed growth, known changed facts and economic projections received from an outside consultant. It proposes spending based on a combination of past spending history, explicitly stated or implicitly assumed council policy and additional policies she proposes.

Oakland’s budget contains more than 100 funds. In fact, we once heard an interim city administrator state that Oakland had more funds than any public entity he had ever seen.  Much of the budget wrangling involves the “General Purpose Fund,” (GPF) of between $390 million and $430 million.  The GPF is largely unrestricted, meaning the city can budget it as it wishes.

Other funds are restricted, meaning they can only be spent for certain purposes.  Sometimes the reasons for the restrictions are clear:  By law, the parcel tax proceeds from Measure Y must be spent for problem solving officers, violence prevention programs, the fire department and other purposes designated by Measure Y.  The Federal COPS grant may be spent for officers, but in limited ways.  The PFRS tax override can be used only to fund the closed Police and Fire Retirement System, either directly or by paying the city’s pension obligation bond debt.  The restrictions for other non-GPF funds have varying degrees of clarity.

In past budget cycles, last-minute council modifications and deal-making have been highly opaque, have contained large math errors and have resulted in a passed budget that even informed observers of the process couldn’t understand.

Make Oakland Better Now! credits the current administration for bringing transparency to the 2013-15 budget process at a level Oakland has never seen.  As of now, Oaklanders who want to learn more about the budget process and the administration’s thinking have plenty of resources available:

What Happens Next?

As mentioned above, council will have a special meeting on Tuesday, April 2 at 5:45 to discuss the entire budget process.  After that, the Mayor and administration tell us we have the following to look forward to:

Week of April 15:  Mayor Quan and the city administrator release the proposed FY 2015 Budget

April 30:  Mayor Quan and the city administrator formally present the proposed 2013-2015 budget to the City Council

Month of May:  Budget town hall meetings to hear community input regarding the proposed budget-balancing measures, hear from neighborhoods across the city what their funding priorities are, and answer questions.  Dates and times to be announced upon confirmation.

June:  Formal city council budget hearings to deliberate and reach final decisions.  Dates and times to be announced upon rules committee action.

June 30:  Final passage of the budget by city council, as required by the city charter.

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4 responses to “Make Oakland Better Now! Begins Its 2013 Guide to the Oakland City Budget Process

  1. Jobs should be Oaklands’s focus. Jobs and stronger families. Everything else is window dressing.

  2. Arthur Schmidt

    “One thing we learned long ago is that budget facts drive just about everything.”

    That is one main reason why Oakland is in such a mess. Budgets shouldn’t drive policy; policy should drive budgets. You’ve got it perfectly backwards. Just like Mayor Quan and the City Council do.

    “If you don’t understand the city budget, you can’t understand public safety policy. And if don’t [sic] fix what’s wrong with the city’s budget, you can’t fix what’s wrong with public safety policy, either.

    Again perfectly backwards. If you don’t understand public safety policy you simply cannot design a budget which improves public safety. MOBN offers no evidence that it understands the actualities of public safety policy in the very complex context of Oakland’s social and economic challenges.

    “Put simply: this budget process is going to be a critical element in determining if, how and when Oakland can restore it [sic] police department.”

    “Public safety” seems to be a slogan for MOBN in the same vein as it is a “priority” for Mayor Quan and the Council. The other slogans currently favored by MOBN and City Hall are “more cops” and “Ceasefire.”

    Slogans are not at all the same thing as real priorities supported by strategic plans with specific performance goals. Oakland’s government and MOBN seem to have no clear notions about priorities, relationships between priorities or a vision for a better Oakland. I won’t mention the steps that actually need to be taken to meet specific goals and the absolute need for leadership and management in our politicians to move this moribund city.

    Some public safety areas for which specific goals need to be established: Significant (eg 50%) reduction of the homicide rate; addressing the trauma suffered by minority citizens, especially youngsters, in the high crime parts of town; creating an environment in which these same youngsters can succeed in school; stopping the prison-system revolving door; reducing the family dysfunction in high-crime Oakland; creating an environment for small business generation in Oakland so that felons have productive alternatives to killing and stealing and dealing drugs.

    If MOBN wants simply to count beans, and to ignore the complexities of policy, goal-setting and management, it could try to define the costs to Oakland of all our crime. It amounts to tens of millions of dollars per year in things like police overtime; homicide investigation, medical and related costs, legal costs; loss of productivity and opportunity costs (were Oakland to have the vital small-business economy it would otherwise have). The term for this is full cost accounting; it’s rarely done but it can be very useful for policy-making when money is what you enjoy making sense of.

  3. Libby Schaaf apparently is pushing an effort to pay attention to the dollar cost of crime in Oakland. A study she cites “concludes that every dollar spent on increasing police in Oakland would generate $2.90 in reduced victimization costs.”

    In her email newsletter today she announces a talk on the cost-analysis of policing by Justin McCrary of U.C. Law School. It will be at Holy Names University Valley Center Theater (on Mountain Blvd.) on Wednesday, April 24, 7 to 9 pm.

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