The City of Oakland is in such dire financial straits that it is planning to use $2.9 million from state gas tax revenues to keep the city’s lights on, rather than using the money to fix pothole-riddled roads, for which the funding was intended.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that the city is facing severe financial shortfalls, despite a booming economy that has seen wealthier households relocate from San Francisco across the bay to gentrifying neighborhoods.
The problem is that the city’s costs are rising faster than its growing revenues, thanks partly to pension obligations — an increasingly common challenge for large, Democrat-run cities that made ambitious promises to public sector unions.
As Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf — famous for tipping off illegal aliens to an impending federal law enforcement sweep, in an effort to defend her “sanctuary city” — noted in her recent budget statement to the city council last week:
Though cranes are rising across the skyline and Oakland’s revenues are growing at a steady rate due to the strong real estate market, the City’s expenses continue to rise faster than revenues. Personnel-related expenses, particularly the cost of medical benefits and pensions – as well as insurance, utilities, and fuel costs – are growing at 2-3 times the rate of inflation and revenue growth.
The deficit for this year will be $25 million. As a result, the Chronicle notes, Oakland — which is generously extending benefits to illegal aliens — can barely keep its street lights on.
To deal with the crisis, the city is shifting money from pothole repair to street lighting, even though the money raised by the 2017 gas tax must be used for transportation.
The Chronicle notes that Oakland’s believes that street lighting qualifies:
Enter the state gas tax.
The mayor is proposing to use the $2.9 million to pay for the street-lighting portion of the shortfall, then use the savings to keep the parks open.
According to Article 19 of the state Constitution, gas tax money is to be used for the “research, planning, construction, improvement, maintenance and operation of public streets and highways (and their related public facilities for nonmotorized traffic).”
Oakland officials feel that gives them the cover to use the tax money to light the streets as well.
The city will still apparently have other funds, both from the gas tax and its own revenues, to use for pothole repair — though less than it would otherwise have had.
Republicans attempted to repeal the gas tax hike in a 2018 ballot initiative, but the state government gave the measure a misleading title. As a result, the measure failed, though polls showed a majority of Californians opposed the hike.
The budget notes that the city will spend $150,000 per year on a legal fund to assist illegal aliens facing deportation.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.