Alameda County’s Measure AA to renew half-cent tax wins big
Measure AA required two-thirds support to pass and won by a nearly 3-to-1 margin with all precincts reporting. The tax renewal measure sought to extend for another 15 years an annual revenue stream of more than $100 million that funds hospitals and community clinics serving indigent, uninsured and low-income Alameda County residents.
It was designed to succeed Measure A, the temporary half-cent sales tax that 71 percent of county voters approved in 2004. Measure A funding expires in 2019, but Measure AA asked voters to extend the tax through 2034.
If the measure failed to win, backers were already considering trying again in 2016. They had little time to rally a countywide campaign after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted in February to place the measure on the June ballot but raised more than $650,000 for the cause.
Some backers initially opposed taking the measure to voters so soon but changed their minds. Among the reasons to hurry was a competing countywide transportation sales tax measure on the November ballot, promising results from a consultant’s poll and the hope that if the measure failed the first time, supporters had plenty of time to try again before 2019.
Back in 2004, the measure won overwhelming support in Berkeley and Oakland — home to the county’s flagship public hospital — but a narrower majority in the Tri-Valley region, where the benefits of the county public health system were less obvious. This year, however, the primary election had few races in the northern part of the county to draw in voters, compelling Measure AA campaigners to home in on regions with more competitive elections such as in Hayward, Fremont and the Tri-Valley.
As with Measure A, three-quarters of Measure AA revenue will go directly to the operating budget of the Alameda Health System, the public consortium that runs Highland Hospital in Oakland, along with John George Psychiatric and Fairmont hospitals in San Leandro and three community clinics in Hayward, Newark and Oakland. The consortium, formerly known as the Alameda County Medical Center, also took over San Leandro Hospital last year and Alameda Hospital in May.
The balance will continue to be allocated by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which has used the money to fund an array of community-based primary care clinics, school health centers, jail mental health services and other programs pledging to care for the indigent, uninsured, children and seniors throughout the county.
The measure won a broad spectrum of endorsements from health care unions, physician groups, business groups and city councils. Backers emphasized in mailers and a television commercial that “Measure AA does NOT” increase taxes, only renews them. Big campaign donors included the Service Employees International Union, Kaiser Permanente and groups and individuals representing local health providers that directly benefit from the tax revenue.
There was no organized opposition and only one person, Oakland resident David Mix, wrote an argument against the measure that appeared on the ballot pamphlet. Among the concerns were lack of oversight over how the sales tax money has been spent and a discretionary fund that allows each county supervisor to spend $150,000-a-year on chosen health programs.
Critics also said that before extending the tax, the county should get a better understanding of how local hospitals and clinics will be affected by the federal Affordable Care Act’s recent expansion of Medi-Cal reimbursements for low-income Californians and an associated drop in state funding.
Pros and Cons for
Alameda County Ballot Measure AA
Sales Tax for Healthcare Services
Requires a 2/3 majority affirmative vote for passage on June 3, 2014
THE QUESTION: Should Alameda County keep the current ½ cent per dollar sales
Tax for essential healthcare services, including Highland Hospital, until June 2034?
THE SITUATION: In 2004, county voters approved Measure A by 71%, so Alameda County added an additional half-cent to the total sales tax until 2019. The tax income adds to money from other sources. It helps pay for emergency care, hospital care, outpatient care, and public health, mental health and substance abuse services for poor, homeless, low-income, and uninsured adults, children, families, seniors and other residents of Alameda County. The money also helps prevent county clinics and hospitals from closing.
Measure A says that 75% of the tax revenue must be spent on the Alameda County public health system, including Highland Hospital. The remaining 25% of the tax revenue is distributed by the Board of Supervisors, based on the need for healthcare services, to a network of providers throughout the county for medical services; emergency care not paid for by insurance or other sources; and public health, mental health and substances abuse services.
WHAT THIS MEASURE WOULD DO: The amount of sales tax would stay the same at one-half center per dollar, but the tax would continue until 2034. The Measure A Oversight Committee would continue to review expenditures of Measure AA funds and provide an annual report to the County Board of Supervisors and the public. If approved, the measure AA tax would not come into force until the expiration of Measure A in 2019.
• Alameda County still faces declining federal and state health care funding, so without this tax it will be less able to provide for needed health care for low-income and uninsured adults, children, families and seniors.
• Measure AA funds will continue to stabilize the Alameda County Medical Center’s budget and expand its health care services as the county’s “safety net” medical center.
• Measure AA funds are essential in supporting primary care clinics in areas that need help most; Children’s and St. Rose Hospitals (both “safety net” hospitals); and school health clinics/services in schools throughout the county.
• A sales tax is a regressive and volatile revenue source for long-term continuing health care needs. We should make common sense reforms so that counties can once again decide how their own property taxes should be distributed. Funds should be distributed to respond to changing needs rather than keeping a fixed distribution formula.
• This half-cent sales tax would continue to make Alameda County residents one of the most highly taxed groups in the state.
• Whys is this measure on the ballot in 2014 when it is not due to expire until 2019?