Since the outset of the current financial crisis, I have encouraged the residents in District 5 and my supporters throughout the city to participate in the Budget process to advocate for the preservation of what I believe should be the focus of our City budget, CORE SERVICES. These core services are: Police; Fire; Parks; Libraries; Streets; Sewers; Sidewalks; and the most essential services for our Seniors and Youth. I have been pleading with my colleagues on the council to realize the urgency of this crisis, and I am again urging you to join me as I push them to stop delaying critical decisions that impact Oakland’s immediate and long-term fiscal health.
On Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council convened a Budget Workshop to discuss the Budget shortfall of $15.26 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2009-10 and $32.72 million dollars for next Fiscal Year, 2010-2011.
The balancing measures taken Tuesday night included staff layoffs in Information Technology, Finance and Management, the Fire Department and Human Services and sale of City owned properties.
Unfortunately, most of these decisions made during the Tuesday meeting are only temporary band-aids and not real solutions to the crisis at hand. The City budget doesn’t have the “luxury” of carrying debt into the next fiscal year. As I repeatedly stated Tuesday, delaying critical long-term decisions until later is completely irresponsible.
Simply put, these budget cuts are not easy but they are necessary. Tuesday night I proposed eliminating six legislative analysts to the council office, five positions in the city attorney’s office, and six positions in the mayor’s office. In addition, we need to mandate that City agencies operate within their budgets. This includes the Police Department, Department of Information Technology, and the Mayor’s office which is currently over budget by $260,000.
I was frustrated that the majority of my colleagues decided that we will wait until May to make the challenging decisions that could help stop the bleeding right now. The fact is that we are not efficient, and the impact of this crisis is not going away. Putting off these cuts now means there will be more people laid off from key departments in the city. A combination of substantial waste being ignored throughout various City agencies along with a drop in revenues means we need to cut many of the non-Core Service that are currently in our budget, its that simple.
Other pending decisions that I will not support include placing special taxes on the ballot for public safety, utility consumption and a temporary, quarter-cent sales tax increase.
One of the least talked about issues we are facing during this crisis is the impact that our debt will continue to have on our city’s credit rating. Oakland, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, is not immune to the looming reality that our credit worthiness will likely continue to fall unless we make immediate spending cuts and address the hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities from our PFRS and CalPERS pension plans.
We have a responsibility to structure our budget in such a way that will ensure we do not have our bond rating downgraded. But if we take only temporary measures, rather than making fundamental changes that will produce ongoing savings in the years ahead, our credit rating could face a steep downgrade. If our credit rating is lowered, the city will have to pay a higher interest rate on money it borrows, making the financial situation even more troubling.
I appreciate the many of you who have written and called council members or attended meetings to voice your priorities publicly. I am urging residents to continue demanding that a priority be placed on Core Services from your city officials. And I urge my colleagues on the Council to act now on the budget, putting off these important decisions will not make the problem go away.