Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oakland Council Votes for Taxes

By Stephen Buel
Tue, Jul 27, 2010 at 8:08 AM

The Oakland City Council voted Monday night to submit four tax measures to voters in November, including a $360 parcel tax designed to let the city rehire 80 recently laid-off police officers. The measure was conditioned upon the police union agreeing to contribute a total of 9 percent to its pension benefits over the next three years.

Rank-and-file members of the police union must approve the deal by August 10 or the city will remove the proposal from the November ballot, the Oakland Tribune reported.

The proposal passed the council 5 to 3, but opponents said the gradual phasing-in of pension contributions by officers would not be sufficient to dig the cash-strapped city out of its deep fiscal hole. "That isn't going to be adequate in terms of overall structural change," councilwoman and mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't believe this particular proposal tonight is the type of deep change we need."

The Chronicle suggested that officers would first contribute 4 percent, then 7 percent, and then 9 percent gradually over the next three years.

The council also agreed to ask voters to approve a related proposal that would amend Measure Y until 2015 to allow the city to keep collecting about $20 million in parcel and parking taxes without having to comply with that measure's condition to maintain a certain number of police officers on staff. The city fell out of compliance with the terms of Measure Y when the council voted to lay off 80 police officers a few weeks ago.

Both of the police-related measures would require a two-thirds vote. Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente vowed to oppose the police tax because the police are not sufficiently contributing to their pensions.

The council also submitted two other tax measures to the voters at Monday's council meeting. One would tax medical cannabis businesses at 5 percent. A group of dispensary workers, growers, and patients warned that Oakland would price itself out of the cannabis market by making its cannabis-related taxes double those of nearby Berkeley. The measure also would tax recreational cannabis growth and sales at 10 percent in the event that California voters legalize cannabis in November.

Finally, the council asked voters to approve a telephone utility tax that would bill residents $1.99 and businesses per month. This tax is designed to raise approximately $8 million a year.

The cannabis and phone taxes require approval by a simple majority of voters.

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