Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong – Part II
Yesterday, today and tomorrow, we are looking at the ten most common arguments we are hearing in opposition to Measure Z, and showing why they are wrong.
Opponent Argument No. 4: The 678 officer threshold is too low, and the City has too many ways out of it.
Response: Nobody is arguing that 678 officers is enough. This measure isn’t designed to get us all the officers we need. For that, we need to elect officials who will prioritize undertaking a meaningful resource allocation study and a rebuilding of the police department to meet the findings of that study. The 678 number maintains the existing tax and keeps things from getting worse. Right now, only 618 police are paid for by the general purpose fund. Ten are paid for by grants (15 more with the COPS grant received this month) and the rest by Measure Y. The 678 threshold is designed to make sure things don’t get worse.
The ways out are very tough. The first one is for “severe and unanticipated financial or other event” creating financial hardship. As things stand, the Administration is projecting serious economic difficulties in the coming years. So the provision for reducing the threshold for a “severe and unanticipated financial or other event” is almost impossible, since the Administration is already projecting severe financial hardships in the coming years. With these projections, they certainly won’t be able to argue that future tough financial times were “sudden and unanticipated.”
The second out is for an unexpected failure of the City’s hiring plan to meet the threshold. The idea is this: if the City makes a hiring plan that considers historic trends for attrition, academy yield, etc., implements that plan, and still falls short, it won’t be penalized by having the entire tax cut off. So a failure to predict the future won’t cost us $24 million for crime reduction, so long as the City fixes its problems. But this exception cannot apply more than one year in a row. And Oaklanders need to make the political process work by electing officials who will design and implement reality-based hiring plans.
The third “loophole” is for expiration of city grants. We don’t like this loophole, and worked hard to get it eliminated from the measure. But it is not, by itself, sufficient basis to defeat the measure. And what we are seeing from the Justice Department so far suggests that we aren’t going to be losing grant money any time soon.
Opponent Argument No. 5: Landlords will pass through this tax, so everybody pays.
Response: This seems like a small issue, but we’ve seen the statement turn up repeatedly on the forums, and it just is not so. Sixty percent of Oaklander households are occupied by renters, not owners, and here are the true facts: Most renters in properties built before 1983 are protected by the Oakland Rent Stabilization Ordinance – i.e., rent control. Setting aside increases for capital expenditures, which aren’t relevant here, landlords of these rental units can raise rents annually by a cost of living factor decided by Oakland’s rent board. The allowable increase for 2014 was 1.9%, and there is no reason to think it will be higher next year. The allowable increase is unaffected by the passage or failure of a parcel tax measure.
For non-rent-controlled properties, the rent is set by the market. A particular property has a rental value based on supply and demand, not on the continuation of a parcel tax likely amounting to 2-3% or less of the total rent.
Opponent Argument No. 6: Voters were misled about Measure Y, and the City acted terribly in the first years of that measure.
Response: We agree completely. Voters should not have been told they would get 803 officers when the measure only required budgeting for, not hiring that number (and when Measure Y paid for far fewer officers than the voters were told they would get). Oakland should have immediately undertaken the audits required by the measure. And it shouldn’t have waited for years to hire the neighborhood beat officers (now known as problem solving officers). Measure Y was a classic example of over-promising and under-delivering, something that sadly occurs in governments at all levels all the time.
And that is why Measure Z is such a breath of fresh air. Measure Z under-promises. It imposes not just a budgeting requirement, but a requirement that the city hire and maintain at all times no fewer than 678 officers. And as the City Auditor’s review shows us, Oakland will likely have to budget more than 700 officers just to ensure it does not fall below that floor.
We would have liked to have seen a higher threshold number. But Measure Z requires that the City pay for the number of officers the measure funds, and leaves to the political process the determination of how many total sworn police we have. In an election year where 6 out of 7 of the leading candidates advocate for 800 to 900 officers, where we are likely to have 715 by October 31 and the City is planning to accelerate academies to speed up the department’s growth the most significant element of the Measure becomes its no lay-offs provision: If the political process results in 800 or more officers, as we expect it will, Oakland will never fall anywhere near 678.
As we have already shown, anticipated 715 officers are all that will be paid for by the City’s current general purpose fund appropriation, grant money and Measure Z funding. So Measure Z, unlike Measure Y, contains no unfunded mandate (although the Measure Y “mandate” was largely illusory, and the Measure Z hiring requirement is real).
So yes, we agree the City – mostly with different elected officials and a different administration – acted badly in the first years of Measure Y. That is no reason to punish Oaklanders by knocking a $20+ million hole in our public safety budget. And that is what a “no” vote would do.
Opponent Argument No. 7: Oaklanders are already overtaxed, and parcel taxes shouldn’t be used to pay for basic services.
Response: Oaklanders do pay a higher property tax than most California residents. And the main reason is the Police and Fire Retirement System tax override. This results from city decisions made in the 1950s, before most of our current elected officials were born. Those decisions benefit only very elderly police retirees and their surviving spouses, as the plan has been closed since the 1970’s. Whatever we think of those decisions more than 50 years ago, they are no reason to reduce spending on public safety.
And as for the argument that “parcel taxes shouldn’t’ be used to pay for basic services,” a review of Ballotpedia shows scores of parcel tax measures passed throughout the state (although even more have failed) to pay for police, fire, emergency response, schools, parks and other basic services. More such measures are presented for schools and fire than police, but that is for political reasons, not policy reasons.
And again, the opponents fail to answer the key question: if not this, where does the money come from? What will be cut?
Tomorrow: the question of oversight – how Measure Z differs from Measure Y.