Special budget meetings, where good ideas go to die

16 Feb

Tonight, the Oakland City Council will have yet another special budget meeting. Somehow, in just one hour, they’re expected to make progress on the seemingly unending and ever-growing budget gap that the City faces.

I’m getting sick of these budget meetings. They seem increasingly pointless, because not only do they keep getting delayed and then no decisions are made at them, but when councilmembers do offer substantive ideas at these meetings, they seem to be talking to themselves since their ideas are almost never incorporated into subsequent budget proposals.

The December 17th budget meeting, for example, mostly consisted of a depressing procession of public speakers explaining why one program or another shouldn’t be cut. Then the councilmembers went on and on about what a bad situation the City is and wondered how they’d ever get out of it. But there were also a couple of legitimate revenue raising ideas proposed by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Ignacio De La Fuente.

Kaplan proposed an increase of billboards, an increase in medical cannabis dispensaries, and licensing of medical cannabis grow operations:

De La Fuente proposed selling golf courses (which Max Allstadt had proposed in his public comments earlier that morning):

Fast forward to the current budget proposal – none of these ideas are incorporated or even mentioned. So someone please tell me, what is the point of these budget meetings? Is it just a place for the public and Council to vent? Or a place where good ideas go to die?

I’ll be attending the meeting tonight to ask staff and the Council why these substantive ideas were completely ignored. If you’d like to join me, the meeting runs from 5-6pm in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza. You can also watch online via KTOP.

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18 Responses to “Special budget meetings, where good ideas go to die”

  1. V Smoothe February 16, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    While billboards, cannabis, and selling golf courses might be good budget balancing ideas, none of those things could be implemented in time to close the current year budget deficit, the subject of tonight’s meeting. Hopefully, some of those things are being actively pursued and will come to fruition in time to ease some of the pain next year. But I don’t see any way they could have been incorporated into today’s proposal – there’s just no way the money from those things could realistically be expected to come in before the end of the fiscal year.

    But otherwise I agree, the meetings are pointless. I’m really sick of going to them. The Council has made it pretty clear over the past two years that they simply don’t have the collective stomach for the unpopular cuts necessary to actually balance the budget and get the City back on track, and will simply turn to whatever ridiculous trick they can come up with to delay the day of reckoning another few weeks.

    • Becks February 16, 2010 at 10:04 am #

      After I posted this, I realized I should have been more clear. I understand that these solutions couldn’t have been implemented this year, but the staff report includes suggestions for next year (mostly taxes and cuts), yet doesn’t include any of these proposals. I think that the staff reports should always at least address ideas that were brought up at budget meetings, even if it is ultimately concluded that there’s not enough time or there’s some other reason the ideas can’t be implemented. Otherwise, what’s the point of these meetings?

  2. Naomi Schiff February 16, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    I am so grateful to both of you ladies for keeping an eye on this stuff. It is hard to get people excited about figuring out the budget, except for when their particular oxen are being gored (I include myself in this number).

    I wonder if the single most immediate thing mightn’t be to enforce the collection of business tax. Perhaps it is just on my mind right now because I have to pay it, but I do wonder what percentage of compliance they have achieved. Granted it means many smaller amounts, not sudden millions, but it could add up. And the structure for collection and use is already in place, so it doesn’t require any official action. I recognize that it might require some personnel being redirected to outreach and enforcement. Seems like it could be worth it.

    • Daniel Schulman February 16, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

      Naomi, I was also wondering about the collection of business tax (I need to figure mine too).

      I was thinking that with the downturn in the economy there are a lot of new landlords from people leasing because they can’t sell, and new consultants from people who can’t get full-time jobs. I’m betting many of these accidental entrepreneurs do not even realize they are supposed to get a city business license.

      • Robert February 16, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

        Perhaps they don’t realize they owe business taxes because the whole concept is such a profoundly stupid, anti-business idea.

  3. ralph February 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    I hope that Nadel, Reid, and Brooks told Kaplan billboards are DOA. Ms. Kaplan tries to make nice with the no smoke and alcohol ads, but she is missing the bigger point, the colored folk don’t want the billboards in our neighborhoods end of discussion period fullstop.

    Facing the freeway, not facing the freeway these billboards still manage to be overrepresented in neighborhoods where the black people live. The great white liberal mvmt will stop OAC because it is discriminatory, but they have no problem bending the good black folk over and screwing them hard when they need to find revenue.

  4. Naomi Schiff February 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    Ralph I agree with you. How many billboards exactly is it before we degrade the neighborhoods that we hope to improve, and which will bring us improvement in tax base and quality of life? We ought to have a rule of no additional billboard in the flats without one in the hills. Then we wouldn’t have any more added.

  5. livegreen February 16, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    Along with low-income housing. Although I live in the hills, what’s fair is fair…

    I agree with Naomi, as I’ve mentioned the Business Tax enforcement a while ago on ABO. Beyond that they should have roving vehicles looking for contractors. With computerized records they could look it up and, if no licenses, ticket them.

    Oh, wait, I/T just got cut and CEDA’s next…

  6. livegreen February 16, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    BTW, is there any way the City can impose further salary cuts even if they wanted to, or are they contractually prohibited from doing so?

    I don’t recall whether the contracts were finalized last year at the same time as the 5% cut in benefits & the furloughs were negotiated…

  7. len raphael February 17, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    Oakland business tax collection has been very aggressive for the past 7 years. if the business owner/landlord reports the income on their income tax returns and lists an oakland address, they are quickly found and taxed by Oakland.

    if they are underground or not listing an oakland address anywhere, then they will only get taxed if forced to register with the rent program (eg. tennant complaint), or perform contracts with the city.

    ie. doubtful there’s a big pot of tax money to be found by even more aggressive activities. the big buck low hanging fruit has already been picked. you’d be left with finding a bunch of small fry and then proving they lied on their income tax returns. hmm…

    • livegreen February 17, 2010 at 11:22 am #

      There’s a lot of contractors out there doing untaxed work without permits. If you catch them on-the-job it’s pretty easy to see if they’re registered or not. If they aren’t you can fine them on the spot.

      Cities-State-Fed’s should be cooperating. Business who don’t pay LIcense Fees or Taxes compete unfairly and hurt our tax base…

      • ralph February 17, 2010 at 11:40 am #

        While I am no fan of certain uncontracted/unlicensed work, I wonder if we have gotten the big dogs and that the cost to pursue additional violators will exceed the benefit.

        • livegreen February 17, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

          In other words, why even try? Moral of the story: Operate business without getting a license & without paying taxes. Welcome to the 3rd World.

          How do laws work without enforcement?

  8. ralph February 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    that is not what i said…you definitely need to enforce the law, but if an additional enforcement person at $52K/yr is only going to result in $250 in fines why hire the person.

    • livegreen February 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

      Use existing inspectors, & make fines big enough to pay for new personnel IF they’re needed…

      • ralph February 17, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

        this is only up for discussion if current inspectors aren’t at capacity. if they aren’t working at capacity then by all mens shuffle their butts out the door to earn their keep.

        i would hope that the jacking up the fine would encourage greater participation because the risk reward profile has changed. so i would not need as many agents.

        so if i follow, what you really want are higher fines to induce the behavior you really want which is registration. i have no problem with that, i have long thought fines for a number of offenses is too low and they did not encourage the desired behavior

  9. Brad February 17, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Some of the contractors doing unlicensed work are just trying to skim an extra buck off the top. But a lot of unlicensed work gets done in Oakland because the inspectors are up to their ears in graft. I’ve heard story after story about inspectors holding up work for kickbacks, A’s tickets, contracts to their relatives, etc. The city needs to clean up its own act if they want contractors to clean up theirs.

  10. Naomi Schiff February 18, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    Do you mean building inspectors? I’m not sure what kind of inspectors you are talking about here.

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