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City Council proposal aims to soften pandemic blow to small business with revised tax code

Three members of the Oakland City Council and a coalition of small business owners and labor union officials on Thursday called for changes to the city’s business tax code to better support small businesses during the recovery from the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Council members Nikki Fortunato Bas, Sheng Thao and Dan Kalb announced their “Lift Up Oakland” proposal, which would implement a progressive business tax structure, replacing the current system that Bas argued places the highest tax burden on small businesses.

The new tax structure would reduce the business tax rate for some 24,000 small businesses that make less than $250,000 annually in gross receipts, according to Bas.

The proposal, if approved by the full City Council, would be placed on the November ballot. Bas said polling has shown support as high as 74 percent among likely voters when they are presented with a neutral description of the measure.

The council members argued the proposal would also raise millions in tax revenue, allowing the city to funnel money toward homeless services, sidewalk repairs, trash collection and other city services.

Bas said:

“We need to act now to … support small businesses while providing new annual resources to the city and our communities so that we can all thrive.”

Officials with the Alameda County Labor Council and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 55 were among those supporting the proposal. Zach Unger, president of IAFF Local 55, said the increased tax revenue would be vital to the city’s ability to fight fires while facing a nine-figure budget shortfall due to the pandemic.

Unger said of the fire department’s funding:

“We’re at a tipping point. We will not be able to provide the service that the citizens of Oakland deserve and respect.”

If approved by voters, the tax system change would take effect in January 2021.

Addressing how the city should handle its budget woes, Bas said:

“This can’t just be about budget cuts.”

She added:

“The choices we make now will help us weather the outbreak of the virus and set a better course for a just and equitable recovery and the future of our communities.”

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