Brief Notes on Oakland Taxes- a Primer on How We Got Here

Heading photo courtesy of Scott Morris, free lance journalist, posted in

The Golden State

Some of you remember the days when we truly seemed to be the Golden State, a place of opportunity, a place where you could be yourself and live your best life.

When I arrived at SFO in 1966, the Master Plan for Higher Education offered me a fabulous degree for very little money. Of course I had to be declared a resident before that kicked in but when it did, my fees for a semester at San Francisco State went down to $33 per. Okay, that was long ago. My rent was under $100 in a shared flat, blah, blah, no one wants who’s paying a couple thousand $ for an apartment in Oakland wants to hear that.

Taxpayers Revolt or Was it?

Flash forward to 1976, I wasn’t yet a homeowner but many of my friends were. Older folks were finding their burgeoning property taxes hard to bear. More importantly, companies who saw the gold in our state didn’t want to pay for the well-educated population (yeah, remember that, we rated as a top state for our educational systems) so they promoted/advertised/sold the benefits of Prop 13, the Tax Revolt of 1978, to all of us.

Living on our Diminishing Surplus

For years, our state’s governors were able to backfill local municipalities fiscal needs cause, after all, they had a gigantic surplus at the time Prop 13 passed so most of our systems didn’t suffer right away. Of course, Governor Ronald Reagan (the one with the halo??) had already worked hard to destroy what our Master Plan for Higher Education had wrought-a well educated citizenry-and largely succeeded in reducing accessibility to colleges and universities.

But finally, the bills began to come due. Here’s my, as brief-as-I-can-be, rundown of how we got here. This one refers to our famously derelict roads but it is similar for our parks (support Measure Q) and other local infrastructure:

In 1978 the people of California passed the Original Prop 13 (a completely different one is now on the ballot).

  1. It limited property taxes on homeowners so that the most recent owners will always pay exponentially more than their older neighbors but most importantly it gave corporations a way to decrease their taxes and permanently reduced the tax base for our infrastructure. It also pushed our once golden state to become reliant on income taxes which caused our funds to drop precipitously during the Great Recession.
  2. At the same time more measures were added to the state constitution-known as the Jarvis Gann anti-tax movement-that limited the state’s ability to pass other taxes or increase the state budget to cover the things we all need. Some of them are still in place.
  3. During the Great Recession that began in 2008, the city laid off much of its personnel in many departments and is still trying to staff back up. The city lost whole categories (like Redevelopment-which funded most of our affordable housing) of state funding which has never been made up.
  4. During this Recession Gov Brown needed to backfill the state budget and comandeered our gas tax which was what the city used to fix its roads. Every part of California saw their roads deteriorate quickly.
  5. 75% of our General Fund goes to public safety (police and fire) so that the other 25% must cover everything else.
  6. A couple of years ago the City offered Measure KK to the voters which passed and it began to collect funds to rebuild our roads using the new city Department of Transportation to begin the work on them. (KK also funds some affordable housing projects but not operations.)
  7. Needless to say, neither the funds nor the work were available immediately. The city worked hard to determine which of our deteriorated roads should be completed first, using an algorithm that prioritized underserved and denser neighborhoods.
  8. Our new city Department of Transportation is now repaving and repairing three times the miles of streets and roads than it was able to before Measure KK. (BTW, I voted against it, I’m sorry to say.)
  9. As I stated in we have been woefully unprepared for the emergency of services much less affordable homes for the huge and growing number of the unsheltered population and will need subsidies and operational funding to provide real shelter.

Measure AA Dismay

Lots of folks are really POed at the City for trying to collect taxes that, according to its own ballot statement, relied on a 2/3 vote to pass. I understand and sympathize with that.

I also don’t believe we should continue to require a super majority to pass taxes for things we care about; and surely early childhood education and college funding for Oakland’s kids is something we should care about (yeah, I know, vague goals and mechanisms, I agree). Please don’t listen to out-of-state real estate speculators or expect them to care about our children. Do you think they have our interests at heart?

BUT, the City and other interested parties should accept defeat on Measure AA lest they permanently injure our ability to raise funds to preserve our existing infrastructure. Please put this to bed now! You can start over or better yet, just call Mike Bloomberg (he claims he will get it done).

Support Schools and Communities First in November

Meanwhile we can vote to increase corporate and commercial property taxes (exemptions for small businesses) in November without raising homeowners taxes!! Support on the state ballot in Novemeber.

1 Comment on "Brief Notes on Oakland Taxes- a Primer on How We Got Here"

  1. Thanks for a succinct, good rundown of our tax situation, Pamela! I would add one point to the ending paragraph: Don’t just support Schools and Communities First in November, but right now also help us get this on the ballot by signing our initiative petition if you haven’t already. Look for signature gatherers at your farmer’s market, political action gatherings, and other spots where people tend to congregate. We have about six more weeks to finish gathering signatures. Help put us over the top!

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