Measure OO: the worst thing on your ballot

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!!!

18 thoughts on “Measure OO: the worst thing on your ballot

  1. Becks

    I tend to be a pessimist about voters too, but I don’t think the situation is quite so bleak. While I don’t think most voters in Oakland know much about OO or about the budgeting process, voters do tend to freak out the night before the election and they pull out one of the slate cards they’ve received or open up the newspaper endorsements. I haven’t seen any slate card or newspaper endorsements in favor of OO so I’m a bit more hopeful than you are.

    Oh wait, I forgot, the SF Bay Guardian of course endorsed Yes on OO. Do any of them actually live in Oakland or pay any attention to what goes on here?

    This is what they had to say:

    “This is a set-aside to fund children and youth services. We’re always wary about set-asides, but kids are a special case: children can’t vote, and services for young people are often tossed aside in the budget process. San Francisco’s version of this law has worked well. Vote yes.”

    How frustrating!

  2. Jenny

    If we were talking about 12 years ago I would have said that the money given to OFCY was to much. But now with the number of programs nearly tripled the money is necessary. And I am tired of watching people going for the quick fix instead of investing in the future. If this isn’t past OFCY will have to cut everyone that it funds or stop taking grant applications of cut funding for programs completly. And then you will all be abck to your same old agrument of “why don’t they have a place for these kids to go.” These programs are working to benefit all children and families. This money is not just for kids who I guess you consider to be unworthy of any program that could help them. It seems that when ever children of Oakland have something that could actually benefit them it is time to take it away. So go ahead and close the programs go even furthure and close the school those places are just eat up you money too. And then keep asking yourself why our children keep killing each other and keep getting thrown in jail and keep doing drugs. Every is always trying to find way to better the youth of Oakland and stop the crime, the violence get parents to care and get members of the community to take responsiblity for it and make it better, but then when it comes time to put your money where your mouth is suddenly there is no supporter to be found.

    Now that is frustrating!

  3. dto510

    Jenny, there are far fewer children in Oakland than there were 12 years ago. So why is it necessary now to expand funding for the set-aside? Also, as V pointed out, saying that money will be taken away from children if this doesn’t pass isn’t really true, as explained above?

    Does anyone know if artists working with children get much money from OFCY? That seems like a good source to fund many of the programs we heard about Tuesday night.

  4. justin

    It seems like there’s something for everyone to dislike in here: ballot-box budgeting, too much money for one purpose, hamstringing the Council, requiring cuts in other vital city services, and a massive privatization scheme. Wow!

  5. Jenny

    the population has risen over 200,000 are you telling me that all those people are over 18?

    And yes OFCY does fund artists, it funds MOCHA, ALICE arts,and other artist who are not affiliated with any organization, however they are paid through after school program who get OFCY money. needless to say if those programs were cut those artists would not be able to work with those children any more.

    and of course its not that the money is going to be taken away but it will get so thinned out amoung all the programs applying and some program will not be funded at all. and then it all turns into a numbers game, who can serve the most kids for less, instead of being about the kids, much like the way the school system has been turned into a game about numbers due to the lack of funding.

    Perhaps this is the way it will always be, the children who grow up with the least will always have to make due with the left overs. No one will ever believe in them enough to actually put them first.

  6. Robert

    Jenny,

    The population in Oakland might have gone up 20,000 in the last 12 years, but NOT 200,000. Oakland school enrollment, an indicator of under 18 population has in fact dropped by 30% or so in the last few years. I think that if we really looked at the numbers, fwe would find that the population under 18 has decreased in Oakland over the last 12 years. And you want still more money?

  7. Chuck

    Thanks for the summary here. I did indeed read OO and came to the exact same conclusions you did. This is for all intents and purposes an unfunded mandate, requiring appropriations without specifying anything at all about how where that cash is going to come from. It’s sleazy, underhanded and wrong, especially with this BS ‘think of the children!’ argument. Children need parks and libraries and cops, too. Think about that much?

  8. OP

    Passing OO would be a catastrophe for the City’s budget, which is already a mess. Increasing services to Oakland youth is entirely laudable, but the initiative should’ve specified a way to pay for it — either in new taxes or by cutting certain programs. As it is, OO is disingenuous because it misleads voters into thinking they can get millions more in funding for children at no expense (or at the least by not having voters confront what the trade-off will be). As terrible as the Council does much of the time, this initiative is setting them up for failure. If OO passes, the Council will be forced to cut or curtail basic city services to compensate (rolling library closures for instance) that I don’t think the public would value over increasing OFCY funding.

    It’s also pretty disappointing that two School Board Members (Kakishiba and Hodge) have signed on to OO. Disappointing, but not surprising, since OUSD and the City of Oakland are operated as separate entities with separate pots of money. In other words, OUSD schools and programs can apply for extra cash from OFCY, and it only cuts into the City’s budget but not theirs.

  9. len raphael

    The funders for the Yes on NN should consider sending some of their bucks over to the No on OO for radio and TV ads or at least door hangers.

    NN will probably fail regardless because renters tend not to like cops and small property owners tend not to want to pay more for inferior services, but if OO passes, police department will have to be cut.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  10. Max Allstadt

    (Caveat: I’m being hypocritical given my comments over the past few days, but I’m also right about what follows. So there.)

    Max’s Measure OO challenge:

    Mr. Hodge and Mr. Kakishiba I dare you to follow this little recipe:

    Take 1 Calculator, and 1 Copy of the City Budget.
    Stew for 48 hours.

    Serve a list of what you suggest we can do without if OO passes.

    They won’t do it, because the truth isn’t a good way of winning votes for OO.

    If either Hodge or Kakishiba publishes a list of proposed cuts within a week, I’ll eat my hat. And I only own one hat, a souvenir sombrero, so that would really kinda hurt.

  11. Ralph

    it warms my heart to know that people take this voting business seriously. i love kids, but in no way shape or form will i ballot box budget money for them let alone for life

  12. Max Allstadt

    Actually V, I hadn’t thought about what’s on the other end of that link. I’m just sayin, even if Brooks and IDLF had managed to add their last minute money searches together before the last council session, the total wouldn’t come near a quarter of what the shortfall would have been if they were contending with.

    If the proponents of measure OO win, the council should pass two resolutions.

    1. The Anti-Irony Act of 2009. This would prevent any public endorser of OO from using OO funds to teach math.

    2. The Oddly Appropriate Act of 2009. This would set aside OO funds for programs which teach kids math using the devastating budget impact of OO as an example.

  13. Yas

    Measure OO is about how we prioritize our resources. There are plenty of ways to find cost-savings in the city budget – by reining in excessive overtime ($50 million), improving efficiency, and identifying other sources of waste.

    Measure OO is about proactively investing in kids so that we don’t have to put as many of our city’s precious resources into policing, because prevention is always cheaper.

    And the truth is this: 5000 kids WILL lose their programs next year – from after-school homework assistance, to sports and recreation, to arts and cultural programming. Without OO, these 5000 young people will experience a cut to existing children’s services.

    And much of that four million came because watchdogs were successful in getting the city to release funds they were previously obscuring so as to reduce funding for the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth.

    The fact is that Measure OO is a graduated increase. The 1% increase doesn’t begin until 3 years from now. We don’t know what the economy will be like then, but that certainly gives us time to plan and to assess where money can be saved by eliminating ineffective programs and waste. For example, the number of City Hall employees making over $200,000 increased 73% in just one year.

    Yes on OO.

  14. Summer

    Speaking from a young persons point of view, who has grown up in Oakland and now works with other young people from Oakland in afterschool programming that focuses on the arts, career and education services and health and wellness… I am nearly convinced (based off of the majority of you alls content) that you do not live in or interact with innercity youth (or have a clue to the needs of young people or why the % of school attendance is so low…maybe because so many are incarcerated) that you all or the people that you care about are not affected by the lack of after school programming and how the few places that do offer services, like where I work ,are in a constant struggle to stay open due to funding…libraries and parks are important, understanding how the budget is structured is important, but so are the people and facilities that are open 24-7 and geared towards building and stregnthing our inner city youth.

    My opinion; The same people voting no on OO will be the same people voting for more jails and juvenile facilities (as a quick fix) when our young people have nothing to do with their time because we do not have enough constructive outlets and facilities for them. It sounds like you all are more concerned about keeping a strong hold on finances than investing in inner city youth. But if you are not one of us I could see why you’d be scared to give us the funding to create the space and tools to better ourselves. My point of view. ;-)

  15. len raphael

    Where were all the yes on OO supporters talking cutting waste over the last few years when the city went on a spending spree for raises and programs.

    And still no public mailers or robo calls from Hammil, Kaplan, or any of the council members opposing OO? i don’t see how that would be forbidden partisan use of left over campaign funds to pay for that. what about all those labor union “volunteers” or some of the developer pacs buying some billboard space or spot radio ads?

  16. Joy

    I work for City of Oakland’s Office of Parks and Recreation (OPR) and since Measure OO passed, I will be out of a job on July 1, 2009 when the new fiscal budget starts. It’s not about the workers but the children who attend after school programs through the recreation centers. Not many people know that the OPR’s staff go to the nearest schools and pick up students to bring them to the program. I don’t know too many non-profit organizations in my neighborhood but I know where there’s the closest park and recreation center that I can attend. Also, some non-profit organizations charge a lot of money for people to participate. People think that parks and recreation are just another way for kids to get in trouble and get arrested when really we offer protection and a way for kids to stay off the street. What are parents going to do when their kids can’t attend OPR’s programs and these are parents who really believe in our services. It’s not just about the youth but the variety of services we offer the public, young and old! People really need to read the voter’s guide instead of just filling in something just because it looks good.