Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer’s ballot argument against
utility tax measure asserts the same items it will fund
are endangered if it passes in November.

Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer is officially opposing a November utility tax measure that, if defeated, could blow a $5 million hole in the city’s treasury.

Spencer was the lone vote against placing the Utility Modernization Act on the ballot earlier this month. Now, she has written the ballot argument in opposition of the measure, which would update the city’s Utility User Tax (UUT) and affirm a roughly $3.5 million annual budget transfer from the island’s energy provider, Alameda Municipal Power.

The ballot measure is needed, the city says, because Alameda’s existing UUT has not been updated since 1970 and does not include modern technologies, namely cellphones. Under the current setup, some Alamedans pay the nominal monthly tax as part of the cellphone package, but depending on the carrier, not everyone is paying equally. In the city’s ballot argument in favor, it says the measure “will not raise your tax rates.”

In addition, a lawsuit against the city arguing the annual budget transfer from Alameda Municipal Power is collected as an illegal tax not formally approved by voters. The city disagrees, but the current ballot measure also aims to avoid such a legal challenge.

But, according to Spencer’s five-point argument, she asserts the measure “expands what is covered by the UUT so that some will pay more taxes,” in fact, up to $240 a month in cellphone charges, she wrote.

The ballot argument ties much of Spencer’s noted antipathy toward public safety labor unions and in the city and pensions. Spencer believes the measure, estimated to collect up to $1.5 million for the general fund is a “blank check” for city employees, some who earn between $200,000 and $400,000 in pay and benefits.

Meanwhile, the argument in favor of the measure claims its passage will buttress future funding for emergency medical response, police and fire services, streets and parks, among other services.

Spencer, though, argues the measure contains “unintended consequences” that could “automatically increase salaries and pension benefits without the possibility of negotiations, instead of going to fund libraries, parks, road maintenance, etc.”

The mayor’s opposition to the measure, however, is only a recent development revealed only after tussling with city staff and council over an insistence earlier this month that she head an emergency Disaster Council.

A short video featured on the city’s website that describes the utility tax and its benefits to the city contains comments from Spencer that appear supportive of the measure and its ability to maintain the way of life Alamedans enjoy. “It does not raise tax rates, but it does expand things that are taxed,” she said in the video.