Oakland Needs a Public Safety Tax



The City of Oakland is considering a much-needed parcel tax that would both help pay for police and fire services and lower a projected $43 million budget deficit next year, the Trib and Chron report. The tax, if the council puts it on the November ballot, would generate about $18 million annually for the city. The money would not be used to hire new police officers and firefighters. Instead, instead it would pay for existing services and help solve an ongoing debt problem caused by declining revenues due to the recession.

Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente has already come out against the parcel tax measure, calling it a “cop-out.” He argues that the city needs to cut more waste and become more efficient before going to voters with another tax measure.

Although De La Fuente is right about city waste and inefficiency, fixing those problems likely won’t generate the money needed to solve the city’s budget woes. That’s because most city employees have already taken a pay cut, and the city had to slash services dramatically last year to fix a previous budget problem. Plus, convincing police and firefighter unions to agree to more wage concessions is highly unlikely.

As a result, the city would be forced to lay off public safety personnel — a bad idea at a time when the police department appears to have finally gotten its act together and crime is dropping rapidly. The city desperately needs to keep that trend going — and not gut the department without first asking voters for help.

Moreover, because of the way Oakland’s previous public safety initiative, Measure Y, is written, the city can’t just lay off a few cops. Instead, that badly written law would force more than sixty officers to be laid off. So while raising taxes during a recession is not normally a smart idea, Oakland appears to have little choice.