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Very reluctantly yours

Submitted by on 1, October 28, 2008 – 9:00 amNo Comment

We’ve been struggling with how to call Measure P, which if passed would more than double the tax paid to the city when a house is sold. Frankly, there’s a lot to not like.

The timing is poor, the solution to the city’s budget woes incomplete, and let’s just say we’re not big fans of political theater. Most importantly, the increase – from $5.40 per $1,000 of sale price to $12, an amount typically split between buyers and sellers though who knows in this market – will have a very real and measurable impact on people, particularly recently minted homeowners who are forced to sell due to health problems, divorce or other life disasters.

Personally, we hate Measure P. But the more we look at this thing, the more we find ourselves asking this question: What other choice does this city have?

As such, we’re recommending a yes vote on Measure P, with the expectation that a serious examination of the city’s finances and a sound, long-range plan for keeping Alameda solvent will follow.

Alameda is one of no fewer than seven cities in this county alone with special taxes to fund city services on the ballot, which to us is proof that our Island city is not the only one struggling to pay for services. And the bleak economy has caused a host of additional problems for municipalities, including the state’s ongoing raids of local treasuries to balance its own messed-up budget.

Four of the seven cities have special taxes of some sort on the ballot to fund public safety – something the city’s pollsters found Alameda voters would not approve (though to be fair, they may try anyway). Other options city staff considered, including an increase in the sales tax – which, frankly, would be much, much fairer than this tax increase – wouldn’t come close to generating the revenue this increase could, even in a volatile housing market.

We’d argue that Alameda is a bedroom community, and as such, our greatest revenue opportunity is in our homes. Proposition 13 in particular has cut that opportunity short for Alameda and every other community in California. So local governments like our city council have to resort to nickel and diming us every few years with all these crazy little taxes in order to keep paying the bills for the services we all expect. (Or put 10 giant Wal-Marts in strategic locations around the Island.)

Members of our city council have been quite vocal about the fact that even if P passes, it won’t solve the city’s budget problems. But ultimately, we don’t see that as an admission that P was a bad idea. We’re taking it as a warning that we can expect more taxes, more fees and more cuts in an effort to keep the city in the black.

Still, we’re hopeful the city will take a serious (and public) look at the budget numbers for every city department, not just the ones that attract the attention of likely voters, in their search for potential cuts. And we hope they will reach out to their community instead of just pollsters in their search for additional budget solutions (including Realtor Rob Platt, who we feel is owed a big fat apology for the council’s public tongue-lashing of him at the beginning of this whole P thing).

In fact, the measure’s opponents have put together this list of what they say are alternatives to the tax, which is worth a look. Because as we always say folks, there’s more to come.

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