Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Council Should Put Parcel Tax on the Ballot

By Robert Gammon
Tue, Jun 28, 2011 at 12:16 PM

Assuming that the tentative agreements with Oakland’s public-employee unions get ratified, the city council should place Mayor Jean Quan’s $11 million parcel tax on the ballot. The city’s union leadership has proven that it’s willing to step forward and make sacrifices, and so city voters should be afforded the same opportunity.

The tentative deals call for 9 percent compensation concessions from all unions, and if approved, will save Oakland’s various funds an estimated $40 million a year, while bringing nearly $28 million in annual relief to the city’s beleaguered general fund. The deals, coupled with the planned $28.3 million sale of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center to Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency, will allow the city to avoid proposed deep cuts to city services, including the closure of libraries and park recreation centers, along with devastating cuts to arts funding and tree maintenance.

“It's certainly painful for our members, but everybody understands how difficult the situation is for the city ... and we're willing to step up and do our share,” Jeff Levin of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21 said yesterday.

The tentative agreements also include pension reform, in which new police and firefighters would be hired at rates that are more affordable for the city, sources said.

Quan had pushed earlier this year for the parcel tax, but it’s unclear whether city voters would have approved it — until the unions agreed to make sacrifices. Oakland residents already have one of the highest property tax bills in the Bay Area, and it’s become clear that the city can no longer afford employee compensation packages inked before the Great Recession. City tax revenues have plummeted by about $100 million — 20 percent — in the past few years.

But assuming the unions' rank-and-file membership ratifies the tentative agreements and brings the city's pay packages more in line with what Oakland can afford, the council should put the parcel tax on the ballot to give voters a chance to see if they want to share the burden as well.

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