For some reason, I find myself, way more often than you’d think anybody would, arguing with people about how much people pay attention to local government. Ever the pessimist, I maintain that significantly more than half the population doesn’t have even the faintest idea what goes on at City Hall, or maybe even who the Mayor is, and doesn’t care to learn. Most people tell me I’m wrong, and that everyone, if nothing else, reads Chip Johnson, which gives them at least a modicum of insight into the workings of Oakland’s government.
Maybe. We’ll find out one way or another soon enough, because Measure OO on this November’s ballot is a pretty damn good metric of whether people pay even a little bit of attention or they just show up at their polling station and vote at random. Because there is no way that anyone who so much as skimmed their voter guide or looked at the newspaper would vote yes on this thing. (Unless, of course, they want to get funding for themselves from the measure and are willing to put self-interest above the good of the city.)
So, in 1996, Oakland voters passed something called Measure K (PDF), which created the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth. Measure K sets aside 2.5% of the City’s unrestricted General Fund revenues to be distributed to organizations providing youth services. Oakland’s Department of Human Services administers the program, awarding funding every year to local non-profits that provide things like after school programs, early childhood programs, youth leadership programs, stuff like that.
Measure K expired after 12 years, but included a provision that said a simple majority vote of the City Council could extend it another 12. And so they did, last April, unanimously voting (PDF) to extend Measure K through 2021. So that means that every year through 2021, no matter what, 2.5% of all the City’s unrestricted General Fund money will go to the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth. Right now, that’s roughly $10 million per year.
Some people don’t think that’s enough, so they circulated a petition and put a measure on November’s ballot that would give them more. A lot more. Like, $15 million a year more. That’s what Measure OO is. It would change the structure of the Kids First set-aside so that instead of getting 2.5% of unrestricted General Fund money, they would get 2.5% of all city revenue. And it would never expire.
Now, the revenue the City gets doesn’t all go to the General Fund. Much of it is money we’re legally required to spend on certain things. Think about your tax bill, for example. You pay for Measure Y, that’s revenue for the City, but we can’t go take 2.5% of it and give it to the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth. So whatever money Kids First gets will come out of the General Fund. Oh yeah, and it lasts forever.
Now, because Measure OO isn’t a tax, it only needs 50% of the vote. (Take a second, BTW, to think about how sick that is. Prop 13 requires that 67% of voters have to approve anything that’s going to raise their taxes to pay for something, but you can just strip money from vital services and give it to yourself with a mere majority. Ballot-box budgeting should be illegal. Ugh!)
And this is why I’m terrified. I think that most people don’t pay attention, and don’t read their voter guide, and that they’ll show up at their polling place because they want to cast their vote for Obama, and while they’re there, they’ll look down the ballot and think “Ooh, I like kids!” and check yes, because they don’t have the faintest idea what kind of impact this will have on the City. Remember, it only takes half.
So, remember how hard it was to balance the budget this month? All the important programs and basic services on the chopping block? Well, you haven’t seen anything. You like those cultural arts grants so much? If this passes, just forget about it. Bookmobile? A distant memory. Your parks, your rec centers? Kiss them goodbye. Senior services? Ha! The Oakland Museum (The Museum is already operating at level that the term “bare bones” doesn’t even begin to describe, BTW. And it took another painful hit on Tuesday.) might as well close. Hey! Maybe we could get some money by selling the building.
I know it probably sounds like I’m being super dramatic about this, but I’m really not. Lets put this figure in context. Measure OO would increase the funding for the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth from $10 million to $26 million if it were in existence this year. $26 million! That’s the entire budget for the Oakland Public Library system. The General Fund portion of the Library budget is $13 million. (This was, of course, before the just passed budget cuts.) Measure OO = goodbye, libraries.
After-school programs are a worthy service, no doubt. But there are other important services too. Things like parks and fields. You know what the entire budget for Oakland Parks and Rec is? $21 million. From the General Fund? $17.5 million. (Again, all these numbers are from the FY07-09 adopted budget, they do not include cuts made in June or on Tuesday, just because that would take me too long to put together. Sorry!) You know what we spend, total on services for seniors and the disabled? $9 million. The museum? $7 million. Total.
And what do the Yes on OO people have to say in response to this? Well, they don’t think it’s that big a deal, because…wait for it…City departments are welcome to apply for Kids First funds, too! Seriously.
Now, OO supporters will tell you that if Measure OO doesn’t pass, their funding will be cut. This is a lie. Funding for the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth will continue to fluctuate along with the fluctuation of City revenues, just as it would if OO passed, since it’s based on a percentage of City revenues. They’ll tell you that no, their funding will be slashed from $14 million to $10 million. The numbers are true, but deceptive. You see, last year (PDF), the General Fund contribution to Kids First was $10 million. But they had money leftover that they hadn’t spent from previous years. And we had some extra money that we hadn’t spent either. So they got, for one year, an extra $4 million on top of what Measure K would have provided. And now they have the audacity to use the fact that they won’t get that one-time extra money again to claim that we’re cutting their budget! Incroyable!
Now, on top of the extra $16 million we’d have to start paying to the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, we’re going to be having a lot of other expenses in the coming years. In 2011, we’re going to start paying an extra (at least) $23 million per year into our Medical Retirement System. We are also going to have to start paying back our old Police and Fire Retirement System, to the tune of about $39 million per year. So remember how hard it was for us to come up with that $42 million? Well, starting in 2011, when we aren’t expecting the economy to be any better than it is now, we’re going to have to, no matter what, find a way to cough up $62 million extra. From somewhere, God knows where. If Measure OO passes, it would add an extra $17 million to that sum in 2011.
Oakland can’t afford Measure OO, not even close. I like kids as much as the next person, and I do think we should support them. But Measure OO advocates forget that libraries, parks, rec centers, and the museum also serve children, and Oakland residents deserve these services. A yes vote on OO is beyond irresponsible, and I urge every single person who reads this to tell everyone you know how awful it is, e-mail your neighborhood listserv about it, and put a No on OO sign in your yard (they’ll deliver it to you). You think Oakland’s in a crisis now? Watch OO pass, and we’ll be looking at this as the good old days.
And remember – it only takes 50% to pass!!!