Last fall among the many candidates and propositions Oaklanders voted on was an initiative to levy a $200 property tax on every property owner in order to provide more funding for early childhood programs and other unspecified activities for our students.
Built into the measure was a written acknowledgement that it required two thirds vote to win based on Prop 218, in force since 1996, that would require special taxes (as opposed to general fund taxes) to receive 67% of the vote. The measure did get 62% a majority of the vote but nowhere near the 2/3 normally required and as clearly stated within the measure.
Our neighborhood-based organization is made up of Oakland activists many of whom are teachers and parents and some who especially focus on our schools. We always support programs for our kids, especially students whose neighborhood schools have not been adequately funded or supported.
But we were keenly aware that this was a controversial proposal not only because of the large tax it imposed but because of the vagueness of the implementation language. In a city which has been adversely impacted by the proliferation of charter schools and other privatization schemes, the level of suspicion and cynicism about public funds and how often they seem to find their way into private hands, is very high.
Voters want to know who will control the monies and how they will be spent before they vote. On the one hand, our taxpayers generally support revenue measures for OUSD, Peralta Community Colleges, and the city infrastructure budget, having very recently given the two thirds blessing to all of them, but this one struck many as poorly written-at a minimum.
Once the measure did not, in fact, pass, many in the education community suggested a more carefully written proposition might be devised. It was a shock then to many in the political community, not to mention those who are not normally seen at city hall, to hear its implementation being certified as having passed at December’s lame duck city council meeting.
Many who strongly supported the measure and seem to be unaware of the court cases swirling around it, are demanding that the new councilmembers “implement” the tax but there are no means to implementation available until and UNLESS a California court allows an exemption to Prop 218 in this particular case. What they are asking the city to do is collect the property tax and place the funds in escrow in hopes that the court will certify the measure.
There does not seem to be any consensus as to whether the court will uphold the city’s certification, and there is now a lawsuit against collecting the funds based on the existing law and the stated two thirds requirement for passage.
We find it manipulative and more than a bit cynical to imply that upholding the measure-which did not receive the requisite vote-is to be equated with not supporting children, particularly poor children. But there seems to be a well-funded and underhanded campaign to imply-if you don’t support certifying a failed measure, that must mean you don’t care about schoolchildren. This is pure spin by the Measure AA campaign.
As the League of Women Voters (many of them parents) stated, “We urge you to nullify the certification of Measure AA as Passed and accurately certify the measure as Failed…. By certifying Measure AA as passed, the Council in effect changed the rules after the game had been played. Had the proponents, the City Attorney, or the Council elected to rely on the Upland decision allegedly holding that measures placed on a ballot by initiative need only a simple majority vote, they had ample opportunity to do so as Measure AA and information about it were being prepared for the ballot.”
Now some of the measure’s proponents seem to think those funds are already owed to the city and as such should be collected but that sort of thinking encourages voter distrust in public institutions and increases anger at public officials-already running at a high pitch. It is dangerous to be cavalier about the rules that voters rely on–dangerous both to our democratic institutions and to our ability to successfully put future funding proposals in front of voters.
There are other choices for increasing the opportunity for our marginalized and underserved students: 1) rewrite the measure including correcting concerns about the 30% that would go to an unnamed, private overseer with unspecified benefits, 2) support a revise of Prop 218 so that majority vote on taxes is clearly the rule, 3) support the Schools and Communities First measure on the 2020 ballot that will return billions to our public institutions while making corporations pay their fair share.
How about we, neighborhood leaders, educators, and parents, work together to do all three? If we truly want a better future for the next generation of Californians, we can do no less.
Sharon Rose and Sheryl Walton, BBBON co-chairs