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?!

You Spoke: Thumbs Down For Pay-Go

The people have spoken, and it’s thumbs-down for Pay-Go.  Some 82 percent of voters wanted these funds to be red-lined from Oakland’s budget.  The rest of you split evenly between keeping them or not being sure what to do, yet still wanted to reduce the $125k allotment per City Council representative.

Thumbs Down

These results came from our non-scientific survey, launched yesterday and still open.  Thus far, respondents were 46 percent male and 54 percent female.  Over 30 percent said they lived in Rep Nadel’s district 3, while others lived in districts repped by Brooks, Brunner, De La Fuente and Quan.  Interestingly, no one cast ballots from Reid or Kernighan’s districts.

What else did Oaklanders say?  They offered varied opinions about how Pay-Go funds are or should be used by different Council reps – and all demanded better accountability.  Check out these comments left by survey-takers:

When times are good, pay-go would be o. k.  Now, no.  Pay-go should have some “rules” attached to it.  Ideally, it should be used to leverage other community $.

I agree with Ms. Brunner that Pay-Go is valuable in a City that seems to perennially pay attention to certain areas while completely ignoring others.  However, I think that more stringent rules should be placed on use – none of this “neighborhood party” business like in Brook’s district.  That is nothing short of vote buying.  Capital improvements only, with cursory permission via vote by other council members.  In that event, I support raising the amount.

Council members should admit and mea culpa their role in blowing the surplus we had a few years back, due to the house-flipping that jacked up transfer tax revenue.  Of course, the council had a feeding frenzy on that, and saved not one dime for a rainy day.  Not learning a thing, at least one council member continues to beat an old dead horse to rifle its saddlebags for money.  Money to buy his own glory to build a boondoggle which he probably wants to name after himself, while his district crumbles apart with no grocery stores or drugstores or youth centers, but lots of murders.

A majority of council members use these funds on projects that don’t get other funds because they are poor uses of money.  It is used to reward cronies.  Get rid of it.

Beyond Pay-Go, many respondents felt the need to suggest other Council budget changes.  Several of you wanted to reduce headcounts in staff offices or else make substantial cuts to the elected reps’ salaries.  One respondent went straight to the stomach, noting meals budgeted by the city clerk:  “The Council should pay for their own meals, not the tax payers.”  I guess every morsel counts during the 2009 recession.

June 20th Update: Still want to weigh in?  Please feel free to take this quick survey and share your thoughts.  Living in the O, which is an active Oakland-wide blog, has asked for survey takers and we’re wondering if these preliminary results will hold or change as survey takers pile on.

Our Council Rep, Jean Quan, also offered her take today on how Pay-Go gets used in our district.  These funds help “prime the pump” on city funding or else fill gaps when there are simply no resources available.

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Vote Here: Thumbs Up or Down For Pay-Go?

We’re kind of obsessed about the Oakland budget, as it races to some conclusion.  Among all the cuts is something called “Pay-Go” funds.  For those not in the know, each Oakland City Council member receives $125k annually for district priorities.

How do you feel about these funds?  Do you think they should be kept in the budget or cut now?  Please take this quick survey and let your views be known.

Survey Guy

Yesterday, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums declared these funds as an anachronism as best.  “I personally think we’ve got to end the practice of pay-go, and just move on,” he said to the the Tribune.  “I don’t think it is good public policy.”

Pay-Go funds have come in handy.  In Montclair, these funds plus private fundraising efforts led to the Shepherd Canyon parking lot.  Smaller amounts are spent on things that people appreciate, such as Joaquin Miller Park maps.

It seems like Pay-Go funds enable the Oakland City Council reps to do things they can’t get approved or done through the city itself.  On the other hand, the choices are up to each rep about best uses for these funds.

We look forward to sharing your opinions soon, thanks!