Why the library tax hike failed and why the city bond issue won't

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I am expecting some extra-special spin from the Whirled this morning about the defeat of the Tulsa library bond issue and property tax rate increase. No doubt they will find some way to blame it on Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. It'll be something like: The City Council clown band has so devastated confidence in local government that the momentum from Vision 2025 has been water line annexation historic relationship with the Chamber get a rope. (I didn't say they'd be coherent.)

Does this vote mean that Tulsa Countians hate libraries? Do they hate downtown?

If I were to go to my boss and ask for a raise, and say, "You pay me a good salary, plenty to live on, but you aren't paying me the most that you possibly could. If you gave maxed out my salary, I could keep my house, car, and wardrobe fresh, vibrant, and up-to-date," he would probably say, "That's nice. Now get back to work." It wouldn't mean that he hated me, or that he didn't appreciate my work, or didn't think I was worth what he pays me. It means that he doesn't see a compelling reason to spend more for my services.

The Tulsa City-County Library system seems to do a good job with the money they've been given. They provide a valuable service to the community. The vast majority of Tulsans don't begrudge them the funding they currently receive or the bond money they've used to expand and improve their facilities and collections. I haven't heard anyone calling for a reduction in the library's millage rate or for selling off the library buildings.

(The only knock I've heard against the library's actions concerned a month-long pro-gay-rights exhibit on the Central Library's main floor, just across from the children's section -- and I think that happened some years ago.)

Tulsans see that the library system is well-funded and well-maintained. They see that over the last six years, since the last bond issue, every branch has been expanded or given a facelift, and new branches were built. Some of the same branches that were upgraded over the last six years would have been abandoned for newly built facilities if the bond issue had passed -- Broken Arrow's library, for example.

I am hearing rumblings that the defeat of the library tax hikes has city officials in a panic, fearing that this may spell trouble for the City of Tulsa infrastructure bond issue that we are supposed to be voting on sometime early next year. Those officials underestimate their constituents. We will support a bond issue if we believe the money is really needed, not just because it would be "nice."

Tulsa County voters approved the Vision 2025 sales tax increase because they were convinced that it was an emergency and we had to "do something." (True, the solution didn't actually address the problem.)

Tulsa County voters turned down the Health Department's 0.75 mill increase in February 2002, even though it was billed as a measure to fight "bioterrorism" and expand services. Voters read a week earlier that the Health Department's revenues had nearly doubled over a ten-year period. The previous fall, they read about special performance bonuses given to a third of the health department's employees, and you couldn't miss their big new building, at 51st & 129th. Tulsa County voters reasonably concluded that the Health Department had enough resources to protect us against epidemics and food poisoning, which is what a public health department is all about.

No libraries will close, no librarians will be laid off as a result of the vote. The message of the library tax defeat wasn't "we hate taxes," or "we hate libraries," it was, "we love you, but you don't need any more money right now."

FYI, here are the precinct-by-precinct results. I haven't looked at them that closely, but opposition appears to have been very widespread.

The rumor is that Tulsa City Council Chairman Randy Sullivan will push to delay a vote for the city infrastructure bond issue until after a vote is held to recall Councilors Mautino and Medlock. The excuse will be that the political atmosphere is just too poisonous because of the recall -- using the failure of the library vote as Exhibit A -- and passage of the bond issue may be in jeopardy. Isn't that a bit like blaming the dog for the results of having had cabbage, pinto beans, and cauliflower for lunch? The poison in the air has been put there by Chamber Chairman Bob Poe, the Whirled, Randy Sullivan, and the Coalition for Reprehensible Government. The way to clear the air is for Sullivan and his masters to stop pursuing the recall and focus on what really matters to the citizens of Tulsa -- things like smooth residential streets and replacement of aging and inadequate water and sewer lines.

The bond issue is already months overdue, thanks to footdragging by the Mayor's Office. There are reports that Mayor had planned to ask the Council to suspend its rules and authorize the vote on the bond issue on the first reading tonight, so that the bond issue could be on the ballot in early March. Talk about putting things off until the last minute. At the moment, I don't even see the bond issue on the agenda on the council's website. It doesn't seem to have been discussed since a draft was presented to the Council's Public Works committee back at the beginning of October.

The city has a backlog of infrastructure projects that runs into the billions. The city's policy has been to fund these needs with a third-penny sales tax renewal every five years and a general obligation bond issue, also every five years, but roughly halfway between third-penny renewal elections. The last city general obligation bond issue vote was in August 1999. If Randy Sullivan has his way and pushes the bond issue out until April or May of next year -- scarcely a year before time for the next third-penny vote. That would be a very irresponsible move on his part, and it would demonstrate that getting rid of two of his colleagues means more to him than attending to the needs of the city.

UPDATE: Chris Medlock responds to this morning's Whirled story. Bobby Holt and Charles G. Hill tee off on the Whirled's editorial on the failure of the library vote.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 16, 2004 12:25 AM.

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