Mayor Quan's Defensive Budget Math

Oakland mayor Jean Quan is not happy that local reporters do arithmetic. In her State of the City speech, Feb. 27, 2013, she said that 200 more police – to get to the 802 officers she promised for Measure Y tax money back in 2004 – would cost $73 million per year.

Reporters immediately questioned the figure, pegging it closer to $40 million per year at a cost of $200,000 per officer in salary, benefits, and equipment. Six days later, mayor Quan put out her weekly newsletter. She insisted her figure was correct, whining, "Even though I stayed for the reception long afterwards NOT ONE of them ("the main print reporters"-ed.) asked me or my staff why I used that figure so I could explain. They ran with story that we were wrong and it was followed by other media." (Quan email newsletter issued March 5, 2013).

She was wrong. For Quan, image is everything, reality irrelevant. Her rebuttal? In addition to salary, she claims, "The costs of the extensive recruiting and screening, academies, 6 month field training, cars, and equipment is [sic] another $33 million for 200 officers."

The basic flimflam in Quan's speech was the statement that 200 officers "means $73 million for the budget." From the context, that is an annual budget. (You can hear her say it at 52 minutes into the City video of Quan's speech.)

Yet most of her additional costs are one time per officer, not annual: the recruiting and the academy. So is the post-academy field training process, which Quan wants to double count as a cost in addition to salary, although it is simply working on salary with a more experienced officer. As for equipment, the City once had the 200 additional officers, although briefly. Did those police have cars and radios? If so, new officers can use them, too. If not, mayor Quan needs to own up to how badly she has run down our police department.

Mayor Quan inflated the cost of police because she prefers to use the money for failed social programs. She broke the promise of 802 police, but social programs received Measure Y grants in full from day one.

Jean Quan has an arithmetic problem in general. When she wanted to build a new palace library downtown in 2006 with a $148 million bond measure, opponents pointed out the exorbitant construction cost. Using City data, they showed the palace would cost $733 per square foot, 75 percent more than Seattle spent for its new library. Then-councilmember Quan continued to insist the figure was less than half that. Fortunately, Oakland voters rejected Measure N and Oakland was not saddled with a huge addition to its bond debt.

Mayor Quan either cannot do basic arithmetic, or she retreats to defensive whining when her figures do not add up. Or both.

A mayor who gives top priority to public safety can increase police staffing. A public-safety mayor will not waste millions of dollars on a long list of fragmented, ineffective, unsupervised, and even corrupt social programs. He can win public confidence that mayor Quan lacks; her current disapproval rating is a huge 60 percent. And a public-safety mayor will doublecheck his math, willing to correct a mistake if he makes one.

– March 5, 2013

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