The Island recommends: Vote yes on Measure A
On March 8, Alameda’s voters will be asked once again to open their wallets to support local schools. Under Measure A, both homeowners and commercial property owners would pay 32 cents per square foot of building on each parcel they own, with a cap of $7,999 per parcel and $299 for parking lots and other unimproved spaces. Seniors and some disabled people would be exempt from paying the tax, which would be in place for seven years.
Proponents say the measure, which would replace the district’s existing and soon-to-sunset taxes and increase the amount collected from $7 million to $12 million, would provide desperately needed money for school services our community holds dear but the state is no longer able to pay for. They say the structure of the tax was crafted with extensive community input, including from business owners who declined to endorse June’s unsuccessful Measure E.
Opponents say the tax is unfair because it offers a break to large property owners like Alameda Towne Centre and the Oakland Raiders at everyone else’s expense. They are offering an alternate plan that they say would tax everyone – including businesses on government property that are now not paying the school district’s parcel taxes – at an equal rate. And they want the district to pull Measure A from the ballot and submit their plan in its place.
We sympathize with opponents’ concerns regarding the flaws in the tax proposal. But we don’t think those flaws outweigh our schools’ need for the money, which we think is genuine and immediate. And we’re not convinced their plan has any greater chance of passage than the one already on the ballot, which has garnered widespread support.
While we understand that the tax was the product of a collaborative process and that its structure is no doubt necessitated in some part by the high bar proponents must hurdle to succeed at the ballot box, the concept of large property owners paying less than everyone else is a difficult one for us to swallow. We think everyone should pay an equal share.
We’re also not huge fans of Measure A’s blanket exemption for seniors, though we again understand the unfortunate political ramifications of failing to offer it and also the limited impact the blanket exemption will likely pose to the district’s parcel tax collections. We’re hopeful seniors who can afford to support our schools with their tax dollars choose to do so.
That said, we don’t think the concerns about the tax’s imperfections outweigh the school district’s clear need for the money. The financial foundation that has been supporting our schools has been eroding for years, and there are no signs that the state or any other entity plans to repair the damage. We believe additional cuts would cause real and perhaps irreversible harm to our schools, and to the fleeting public school careers of thousands of students.
Unlike its predecessor, Measure A lays out clear spending priorities and offers a solid oversight mechanism to ensure they are followed.
Opponents say they don’t believe the school district will need to implement a “Plan B” scenario of school closures and increased class size if the measure fails, but the district has already made more than $7 million in cuts this year that included class size increases, a five-day reduction in the school year and program cuts. And its budgets show the district is relying on dwindling savings to stave off additional cuts this year.
Instead of offering specific cuts or changes they think the district should make, opponents propose a plan that seeks to raise a similar amount of money for our schools, leading us to wonder if even they are entirely convinced that “Plan B” isn’t real. Meanwhile, many of the small businesses opponents say will be harmed by Measure A apparently haven’t gotten the message: Three of Alameda’s four business associations have endorsed the tax, despite the fact that this alternate plan has been on the table for months.
Opponents of the measure do raise another good point, though: Measure A fails to ensure that for-profit businesses on government-owned land pay their fair share, something guaranteed by other local measures like the tax we pay to support Alameda Hospital. School district leaders have said they are prevailing on the city to get those taxes paid, and we are hopeful that opponents will hold their feet to the fire to ensure that they do, because every dollar counts.
We recognize that Measure A is not perfect. But despite its flaws, we believe it offers the best alternative and the highest chance of success for providing the funding even opponents seem to agree our schools need. For that reason, we recommend that you vote yes on Measure A.