28
Jun
09

You Declare: Pay-Go Should Change

This month, Oakland City Council members eliminated their Pay-Go district funds to help close the budget gap.  Given the news, we wondered whether you were “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and launched a survey to find out.

After first reporting survey results the day after launch, we practiced restraint and waited until survey-takers had arrived equally from all Oakland districts – and now can share more representative results.

Just 58 percent of you feel the funds should be entirely eliminated.  That leaves 42 percent who sorta like Pay-Go. Some 27 percent say things need to change, by decreasing the $125k previously doled to each city council rep.  The remaining 15 percent split evenly between keeping the funds or increasing them.

Thumbs Up Down

What Non-Believers Say

We received many polarized comments, and have plucked those shedding light rather than pure heat.  Let’s start with the non-believers, who state that undirected funds clearly contribute to fiscal or political mayhem:

No “special projects.”  Every district’s special projects should have to compete for the available funds.

In the absence of a prioritized review process, these funds are too easy to use for political purposes.

Pay-go is a slush fund; its very existence works against transparency and accountability for our government officials, promoting cronyism if not corruption.

If there’s not enough money to go around, let’s be honest about it and at least have everybody in the same boat, not let our reps’ buddies/supporters always get the kid glove treatment.

What Believers And Pragmatists Say

Meanwhile the Pay-Go believers say the funds can be used to close gaps or solve problems.  Others are more pragmatic and feel things must change, or else:

Some council member use pay go funds wisely, pairing them with other funds to get a lot done.

Funds should be tied to capital expenditure only – though the wording should be just broad enough to include planning required for capital expenditure, or applying for matching grants etc as long as *those* were for capital expenditure.

I think Pay-Go funds *can* be a great resource in the districts where they’re well used, but the problem is that they seem to be especially prone to political influence and corruption in some districts.  Since it’s hard to take them away from some areas and keep them in others, maybe it’s time to look at the system overall and find a better solution.

I do think Pay-Go serves a critical need in terms of funding local projects that will never fly at the citywide level, but we need to find an alternate means to this end.  Too much of the Pay-Go budget is wasted right now.

Today In Montclair’s View

Let’s use this Pay-Go cut as an excuse to consider aligning district and neighborhood priorities fiscally. We claim to be hyper-local when it comes to public safety, the biggest budget chunk.  Meanwhile other general and capital funds are budgeted based on functions and not locations per se.  Why not run some “audit tests” based on local demos, crime, calamities and other filters?

Of course, we’re not twiddling our thumbs, waiting for a district revolution anytime soon.  Thus Pay-Go reflects a flawed yet practical approach to solving localized needs, as long as these funds stay small.  After the recession abates, it can’t hurt to provide some form of local funds to council reps.

We fully acknowledge there should be more guidance on how Pay-Go gets spent, and also believe this kind of accountability is something that’s not unique to Pay-Go.  We need plenty of oversight regarding all the city spends, from the City Auditor plus other citizen watchdogs.  And if you don’t like how your rep handles things, then vote them out?!

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