(Editor’s note: Oakland Local and Make
Oakland Better Now
MOBN – have teamed up to take a close look at the accuracy of
candidates’ response to an online questionnaire from MOBN. We want to know if
candidates are being truthful and accurate in their responses, or are they veering
from facts and offering opinion without any solutions?

Each day, Oakland Local
will run a fact checking story on seven important questions.)

Monday’s Question:
How will mayoral candidates deal with Oakland’s structural budget deficit?

When it came to providing specific financial numbers or
ideas many of our candidates for mayor fell short. Most of the answers,
however, were spirited. Mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan gave the most specific
response.

Arnie Fields

In his response, Fields said city government was
mismanaged and that corruption in City Hall must be rooted out before positive
change can occur. Fields blamed former Gov. Jerry Brown for most of the
modern day problem. He also accused Brown of using his policies to benefit in
the sale of his home on Harrison Avenue.

What we found:
Fields was on point in saying that city funds have been criticized for being
mismanaged in the past. That was something the state called the city on the carpet
for its poor management of federal
funds
. However, when Fields tried to connect Jerry Brown’s city policies as
mayor (Fields used the term “elitist policies”) he failed to provide direct
proof that the policies were “elitist” and led directly to the former mayor’s
home
sale
.

Greg Harland

Harland’s response is mostly devoid of specific ways he’d go
about accomplishing his goals. Harland begins his response by saying, “I would
balance the budget by cutting expenses. This will take major structural changes
in city employee compensation and benefits.”

What we found: First, the candidate does not say what those
structural changes will be. Second, given the current stalemate
the city is in with its police department’s union and the strength of the fire
fighters union, Harland doesn’t really lay out what he would bring to the table
to turn things around for Oakland other than he will convince the union that,
“it is in their best interest to do so.”

Rebecca Kaplan

Kaplan gives a detailed response to the question and down to
the grit when she says she “will work immediately to resolve the impasse
regarding police pension contributions, seeking a 9 percent pension contribution as
part of a strategy to eliminate police layoffs.”

What we found:
Kaplan has been on the City Council for two years, but she doesn’t explain what role
she played in trying to prevent the impasse, nor what she’ll do this time
around as mayor.

Kaplan also was criticized by some policeofficers both for her actions during the Oscar
Grant protest
as well as during pension negotiations,
making the effectiveness of her role somewhat challenging.

In her answer to MOBN, Kaplan reels off a list of things she’d
like to accomplish with the budget, including long term solution plans. Kaplan
wants to “refinance outside debt payments to lower interest rates, and reduce
total outside debt, and switch to lower-cost sources, in order to reduce the impact of the structural deficit made up of debt payments.”

What we found:
It’s no secret the city’s debt situation is a hot mess, and
Kaplan will have to do a lot of sweet talking and arm twisting to accomplish
her goals. Rising pension costs will push the city’s projected deficit to $58.7
million by July 2011. And the biggest portion of that budget shortfall is a
debt payment of $43.9 million due July 1, 2011, to the old Police and Fire
Retirement System. The payment would be more than 10 percent of the roughly $400
million general purpose fund budget.

Kaplan has proposed taking on certain short term measures
to deal with the budget crisis including, “repositioning city assets that are
currently losing money and personnel management actions such as retirement
incentives to lower personnel costs.”

What we found:
Kaplan doesn’t sketch out what “repositioning” is or how much she expects to
save with her short term measures. Those measures will have to be effective
quickly. According to a recently released city audit report, the city is
looking at fast-approaching deadlines and will possibly need alternative
scenarios
on paying on its pension obligation bonds.

In addition, many of Kaplan’s potential actions in dealing
with the budget as mayor will have to be done in cooperation with City Council.

As part of her plans for generating short term revenue,
Kaplan would also “like to see extra enforcement ofblight fines, which she believes will serve to
bring in revenue from the fines themselves, will help reinvigorate our
neighborhoods.”

What we found:
Any extra
enforcement
will likely mean extra duty for city staffers because Oakland
has growing areas dealing with serious blight, particularly
foreclosed homes
. Kaplan doesn’t say how much in additional fines the city
can extract, so it’s unclear how much additional revenue the city will receive.

In addition, Kaplan’s
office will have to coordinate with a wide variety of struggling city
departments
, including the police department and a budget-challenged
public works department.

Kaplan takes credit for successfully advocating “to be
included in the Alameda County Vehicle Registration fee, and the new free
Broadway Shuttle for which I helped land grant funding.”

What we found: It
is true, she has been active
on this issue
.

In June, the Alameda County Transportation Commission placed
a transportation improvement measure – Measure F – on the Nov. 2 ballot
that if passed by a
majority vote, would provide a Vehicle Registration Fee of $10 that
would be used for local transportation and transit improvements throughout
Alameda County.

In her response to MOBN about the structural debt, Kaplan
also gives some generalities about “cutting red tape” for businesses. She also
wants to rewrite the business tax code and zoning code to encourage job growth
and economic revitalization. There are no details on how she would go about
accomplishing this in her term.

Kaplan also goes on to say that that she’d like to see,
“civilianizing certain roles in the police department.”

What we found:
Kaplan does not say what specific roles in the department may benefit from
civilianizing or how she would help change the relationship between Oakland and
the Port Authority.

Kaplan said that under her administration she would make
attracting new businesses a priority by “implementing a clear plan for retail
growth; changing zoning; identifying infrastructure needs and revamping
recruitment; and marketing programs to attract growth industries.”

What we found:
Kaplan doesn’t identify any examples of her proposals, so it’s hard to gauge
how her plans could specifically impact the city’s debt.

Kaplan also connects attracting business to making sure our
roads and infrastructure are improved: “City road and sewer repair efforts
(including seeking outside funding) so these infrastructure costs decrease,
rather than increase, over the long term.”

What we found:
Any efforts to deal with problems connected to our roads and infrastructure
will have to delve into the Public Works Department financial problems. Even
with outside funding, the city is looking at severe public work financial
stress.

Don MacLeay

MacLeay decided to be efficient and combine some of his MOBN
answers.

MacLeay said he will call a budget summit and a kind of
budget “constitutional convention” where we put the whole budget on the table.”

Under this summit MacLeay has a nine-point plan that he will
advocate including, “Negotiate a transfer of the existing retirement plan to
the employees; start a new retirement plan that pays its liabilities on pay
day; have a plan for the ups and downs of the business cycle.”

What we found:
MacLeay will have his hands full just dealing with those issues. The city’s
relationship with its unions is
tense
, at best. MacLeay doesn’t give an example of an effective alternative
new retirement plan that pays its liabilities on pay day. Also, in his
response, there’s no follow up details on developing city plans for dealing
with business cycles.

MacLeay’s other points also fail to map out his goals. For
example, he writes that he’d like to see “mandates, such as Measure Y need to
become part of the law and policy of city government,” but there’s no specific
actions proposed by the candidate.

MacLeay said good relations between city employees and the
local government comes from “giving workers a fair work environment. We will
not get the partnership we need from our employees and our unions if we do not
live up to this promise of good conditions, good benefits, job security and a
positive working environment. If we do, then we can work out viable contracts.”

Don Perata

Perata also wants to bring the experts on board to study the
city’s growing fiscal problems.

“We need experts in public finance to establish
a common set of numbers that everyone can agree on in order to work to put
together three-, five- and 10-year expenditure/recovery plans for the city,”
he said.

What we found:
Convening summits is a popular tool used regularly by elected officials.
Dellums oversaw an economic
summit
with a few weeks after winning the election. And the current mayor
also regularly attends a variety
of summits
, yet it’s unclear what specific direct action has come out of
these summits.

As part of his answer, Perata also thinks city government is
too “top heavy” and as mayor, he would cut some administrative positions.

“I’d be shocked if I couldn’t find 80 jobs in City Hall less
important than the 80 cops who were laid off,” Perata wrote. “In fact,
I’ve identified 30 alone in the city administrator’s office.”

What we found: Perata did not name the 30 positions in the
city administrator’s office that needed to be cut, so it’s unclear how
realistic his plan is.

Jean Quan

Quan gives four bullet point responses to Question 2 that
lacked any real detail. She said she wants to “negotiate police pension
contributions; (and) extend PFRS payments using existing tax rate.”

What we found: Quan’s relationship with the police has been strained.
Quan was blamed heavily by the Oakland police’s union for the recent layoff of
80 officers. Quan also was right in the middle of the Oscar Grant dustup with Rebecca Kaplan.

AS for the PFRS payments plan, a recently released report by
the Office of the City Auditor shows that it will be a tricky
situation
given that the city will still have to pay into the system.

In her response, Quanalso said she would like to continue to pay down internal debt.

What we found: Paying down the debt will be an important thing to continue if the city can dig
its way out of this financial
disaster
.

Reorganizing city services and increasing “retail sector
revenue” also are on Quan’s list of goals although she doesn’t offer suggestions on how to
make either of those ideas happen.

Joe Tuman

Tuman, too, wants an outside firm to study the city’s
finances.

“We will audit to gain a clearer perspective of efficiencies for
cost, functionality and ability to achieve core responsibilities of
government,” he wrote to MOBN.

Tuman said as a result of the audit his office, “will act to
effect as many cost-saving measures as possible in an effort to reduce the
deficit.”

What we found: Tuman will definitely be cutting to the bone with any cost-saving measures.
According to a report  released by the city, since 2008, the city
has implemented a number of cost saving measures including, closing city offices
through furloughs, eliminating 237 jobs, laying off 150 workers and closing
branch libraries one day per week.

Tuman wants to also meet with labor unions regarding the
city’s deficit.

“I will not in this document spell-out what demands I will
make on our unions; this kind of information is strategic for negotiation and
only a neophyte would show his hand before the negotiation process has begun,”
he wrote.

Tuman said he would also work with “external funding from
the state or federal government, which might be used to supplement core
functions.”

What we found: Tuman didn’t spell out what he would do to get extra funding.

Terrance Candell

Candell give a brief two point bullet plan, which includes
taxing commuters to Oakland 1 percent on their paycheck and putting tolls on
major Oakland freeways.

What we found: Candell, a supporter of Oakland’s
own currency
, doesn’t provide details on how he could push through a unique
program like taxing commuters.

Candell’s second idea wouldn’t work because bridge tolls are
administered by the Bay Area Toll Authority and the state agency Caltrans.

Note: This story is a collaboration between Make Oakland Better Now, Oakland Local and Spot.us. Thanks to Jen Ward and Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig for their work.