By Libby Schaaf | Special to CalMatters
As the mayor of Oakland, I make hard decisions every day and see firsthand how stretched thin we are, and it couldn’t be more clear: We need new resources to support and invest in our essential workers and local services. We need the Schools & Communities First initiative.
The city of Oakland, like all communities throughout California, faces a budget crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen. I couldn’t be more proud of the early actions Oakland and the Bay Area took to combat the coronavirus crisis, but we will be forced to make some of the toughest decisions any community could imagine. And, frankly, we don’t have the resources to adequately invest in the most critical services and schools that we all rely on right now.
As a mayor, I’ve already made difficult choices. We had to release all of our temporary part-time workers – more than 400 people who relied on the city as their employer – because of the huge deficit we already face: $80 million over the next 14 months. We’ve been forced to hold off on training and hiring additional emergency responders because we simply can’t afford it right now.
Even before the crisis, Oakland, like many cities across the state, struggled with limited revenue and tight budgets to address critical needs like affordable housing and homeless services. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges.
That’s why, now more than ever, we need the Schools & Communities First initiative – the most consequential policy measure for California’s cities, counties, school districts and small businesses.
If passed by California voters in November, this initiative would bring $12 billion every year to our local communities and schools throughout the state. We could use those funds to support and invest in essential frontline workers and programs that have kept us all safe and healthy. We would close corporate tax loopholes that have cost local governments and schools billions of dollars over the years.
What’s more, this initiative is a lifeline for small businesses weathering this crisis right now. By protecting small businesses and implementing brand new tax relief on costs related to equipment, supplies, machinery and more, the Schools & Communities First initiative prioritizes the needs of our local small businesses.
According to research conducted by the University of Southern California, 78% of the revenue would come from only 6% of commercial and industrial properties – illustrating the fact that only a fraction of top corporations have enjoyed the overwhelming majority of benefits for years.
We know that the opponents of Schools & Communities First will say whatever it takes to maintain the status quo, but to put it into perspective – as these corporate tax breaks continue benefiting those at the top, the city of Oakland faces an $80 million budget shortfall due to this crisis.
Supporting the Schools & Communities First initiative is a values statement. It’s about what’s important to us as a society and the priorities we make. We could either keep going along with the status quo of corporations taking advantage of tax loopholes at the expense of our critical local services, or we could choose to close these loopholes, hold corporations accountable once and for all, and bring back more investments for our communities and schools.
We have some tough times ahead of us. This crisis has hit all of us hard in a variety of ways. As we come together to rebuild, we have a responsibility to reinvest in the future of our neighbors and students. The Schools & Communities First initiative on the November ballot will be a critical component of that reinvestment.
Libby Schaaf is the mayor of Oakland, firstname.lastname@example.org. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.
The author wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.