So you’ve probably received your ballot by now in Oakland’s special vote by mail election. Make sure to send it in by the 21st!
Your ballot contains four Measures, three of which involve changes to various city taxes. And then there’s Measure D, a charter amendment.
Here’s the story with Measure D. In 1996, Oakland voters, by an overwhelming margin, passed Measure K, which established the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth (OFCY). Measure K required the City to set aside 2.5% of Oakland’s unrestricted General Fund revenues for youth programs. This money is awarded annually in the form of grants to local youth services organizations (PDF).
Measure K lasted for 12 years, and included an option that allowed the City Council, by a majority vote, to renew it for another 12 years. The Oakland City Council unanimously renewed Measure K (PDF) in April 2008.
Because Measure K set aside a percentage of revenues rather than a specific dollar amount, the funding available for these programs was, just like everything else in the General Fund, subject to significant fluctation depending on the economy. The recent downtown in City revenues meant less money for OFCY, and some people didn’t think that was fair. So they circulated a petition to put a measure on the November ballot that would provide OFCY more money. Like, a lot more. Like, $15 million a year more. That was Measure OO.
Measure OO changed the set-aside for OFCY so that it no longer applied only to unrestricted general funds. Instead, it would take 1.5% of all the City’s revenue for two years, then 2.5% of all revenue thereafter. So any money coming into the City – grants, taxes for special purposes like Measure Q (library) and Measure Y (police/fire/violence prevention) would be subject to the set-aside. Of course, since money from grants and special taxes cannot, by law, be given away to non-profits, the General Fund would be left on the hook for the entire cost.
Despite the fact that pretty much everyone on the planet opposed Measure OO, it managed to squeak through with 53.12% of the vote (a smaller percentage, BTW, than any of the taxes on the ballot received. Lucky for the Kids First Coalition, since they weren’t actually asking voters for any new money, just taking existing money, they only needed to cross the 50% threshold to pass, while taxes need two-thirds). The passage of Measure OO spelled doom for the City, and just days after the election, forces behind the campaign for OO were calling it a mistake. Nice work, folks.
With City revenues plummeting, Oakland was even more ill-equipped than normal to give away millions of extra dollars to outside organizations, and almost immediately, the Council started talking about placing a repeal of OO on the next ballot. After numerous meetings and lengthy debate (chronicled here, here, here, and here), the City Council settled on a compromise measure, supported by the Kids First Coalition, that would amend Measure OO so that 3% of the City’s unrestricted General Fund revenues would be set-aside for OFCY. This gives OFCY more funding than they would have recieved under Measure K, but less funding than they would get from OO. The compromise is Measure D on your July ballot.
The savings are significant. In the coming fiscal year, the City Auditor estimates that Measure OO would require a set-aside of $15.1 million. If Measure D passes, the required set-aside will only be $11.5 million, saving the City $3.6 million. That’s $3.6 million we simply don’t have to spare. In two years, when the OO escalation kicks in, the City would be on the hook for just under $14 million more under Measure OO than under Measure D.
I was not supportive of the Council’s choice to compromise, and would have much prefered a ballot measure than simply repealed Measure OO completely, reverting the set-aside back to Measure K levels. But a full repeal was unable to win the support of a majority of the Council, and well, that’s life. A number of people who were unhappy with the compromise are now urging residents to vote no on Measure D, saying that failure of Measure D will force the Council to call another special election, this time asking for a full repeal. Don’t do this.
Oakland simply cannot afford the costs of Measure OO. We can also not afford another special election. I would have prefered that Measure OO didn’t pass in the first place, but it did. I would have also prefered that the Council placed a full repeal on the ballot, but they didn’t. Sometimes you lose, and as much as it sucks, you have to learn to live with it. Measure D is the choice we have before us, it isn’t great, but it’s not insane and awful either, and really, sometimes you just have to suck it up and vote yes, even on things you don’t like that much because they’re better than the alternative. And that’s the case here. Please vote yes on Measure D.