Debate Simmers on City’s $2 Billion Budget

Jul 3, 2013

Posted in CommunityLaborResponsive Government

By Ken A. Epstein

Oakland’s new two-year $2 billion budget – the first in five years to be based on rising city revenues – focuses on hiring more police and reducing blight in the city.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

The budget, which incorporates many of the priorities of the mayor and the differing plans proposed by councilmembers, was adopted by a 5-3 vote Thursday, with the support of Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney Dan Kalb, Pat Kernighan, Libby Schaaf and Rebecca Kaplan.

Though the days austerity appear to be over, at least for now, some councilmembers are saying the spending plan is excessive and risky and will lead to more cuts in the future.

In addition, city employees, who held a one-day strike on Monday, are saying they have accepted the brunt of the cuts over the past five years, and Oakland must do more to restore their standard of living, rather than giving so much of the new-found income to police.

The spending plan is optimistic but prudent and based on spirit of compromise, according to McElhaney.

“This budget clearly does more for the community than many that we have been able to pass in the past few years. I’m pleased,” she said.

“With the  ‘all-in budget,’ we were able to include everyone’s priorities,” she said, referring to the compromise budget designed by her, Kaplan and Kalb.

The budget will add funding to reduce blight and repair potholes, reduce the impact of cuts to Head Start and senior centers, increase funds for the West Oakland Job Resource Center and the West Oakland Youth Center,

The city will hire 160 new police officers, 10 new civilian police staff to help with investigations and the crime lab and continue the contract with the California Highway Patrol to help police city streets.

The budget also increases the number of staff in the City Administrator’s office.

McElhaney said she talked to staff while developing the all-in budget proposal and was told this “this is a very strong budget.”

“This budget does push the city to the limit. It is an optimistic budget that funds our future,” she said.

While the “all-in budget” does fund most of what Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Noel Gallo and Larry Reid were asking for in their alternative, budget, Brooks says the newly passed budget is “bittersweet,” because it is “fiscally irresponsible” and “simply kicks the can down the road.”

“The all-in budget paid for $8 million of ongoing expenses with one-time money,” said Brooks in a prepared statement. “This means we incur an expense knowing full well that we don’t have the money to pay for it in the future.”

Desley Brooks

Moreover, she says the budget funds city worker wage increases in a way that could mean layoffs in the future.

“What was most disturbing was the  ‘all-in team’ funded a potential civilian employee bargaining set aside with $6 million dollars of one-time monies knowing full well this is an ongoing expense.   This is fiscally irresponsible, reckless and unnecessary,” she said.

“We missed an opportunity to fund the items that provide the residents of this city with a safe, clean, and livable city and doing so in a fiscally responsible way.”