Why the hurry?

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A number of people have asked why the county commissioners seem to be in such a rush to put a sales tax hike on the ballot to pay for their proposed Arkansas River projects. The official answer from County Commissioner Randi Miller is that they're not in a rush at all, because the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP) has been in the works for four years.

This is an instance of misdirection, deliberately confusing the ARCMP with the river tax propsal: The ARCMP is a plan for capital improvements and development along the length of the river through Tulsa County over the course of the next several decades. The proposed river tax plan, implements a few projects in the ARCMP, but also includes projects (like a pedestrian-only 41st Street bridge) at odds with the ARCMP, and except for a few million for "studies" it excludes the sections of the river south of Jenks, and between Sand Springs and downtown Tulsa.

The river tax plan wasn't announced until June 20, 2007, and the details of the plan still have not been made public. We don't yet know how much each project line item is estimated to cost. The ballot resolution, the legally binding document that spells out how the tax revenues will be spent and how it will be governed, hasn't been made public yet, but the commissioners will be voting on it today (Thursday). One of the key issues is the composition of the board that will decide how to divvy up the $57.4 million for "River Corridor Land Acquisition." Will the City of Tulsa be well-represented on this board? What is the real likelihood that Tulsa will get any of the money for encouraging private riverfront development within the City of Tulsa's limits. On KFAQ Wednesday morning, Commissioner Fred Perry was unsure of the details of how the land acquisition would be handled and whether the city or the county or a nine-member trust would own the land.

There's a scheduled statewide election, a presidential primary, on February 5 -- we'd avoid the extra $170,000 cost of a special election. There are also two other dates before the end of the year, in November and December, on which an election could be held. There's time to air all the details publicly, receive public comment, and adjust the proposal.

So what's the real hurry? Commissioner Perry gave a very straightforward answer Wednesday morning. (It's about 22 minutes into this podcast.)

I think that to a great extent that is being driven by the philanthropists who have brought forth the private money, who -- basically, the way George Kaiser, I heard him put it, where his $50 million is concerned, is that normally he gives money to educational uses and human needs uses and so on -- his foundation does -- and that obviously there's probably some tax implications coming up on the end of the year, and if the public was not, you know, going to pass this then he wanted to be able to put his money elsewhere. And I've heard, you know, similar comments from some of the other people that are giving money.

Interesting that someone else's tax issues appear to be the reason for rushing ahead with a tax increase vote. There's more to this story, having to do with foundations and required annual payouts, but it'll have to wait.

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4 Comments

sbtulsa said:

all you need to know about this proposal is the following. not one reference has been made to the "river plan" by Randi Miller, John Smalligo, or Fred Parry(sp?). they have not said they have an alternative vision for the river and detailed what it is. no tax money should be spent on captial projects without a plan.

for that reason alone, the last minute hurry up approach, voters should kill this idea. then start over with the current river plan, identify projects within that framework, search for developers with whom to partner, issue rfp's, and when a formal plan is in order for parcels, seek financing.

simple and organized.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Michael,

I've said this before, and I probably don't say it well enough. Fred Perry alluded to it. The only reason there is any philanthropy at all is because there may be some tax implications for these wealthy donors. In essence, our increased taxes are are underwriting a tax deduction for them. Without the tax increase, they don't give the money. That's not philanthropy - that's business - that we would end up paying for.

Some will say they'll get their tax deduction one way or another - take the money. But it's much more than that at stake.

Will we be required at some point to rename the Arkansas River the Kaiser Memorial Waterway?

I want to develop the river. Private people can and will do it if there is any money to be made.

Or do they keep the private people out for the sake of a tax deduction? Hmmm...

sbtulsa said:

under this current proposal by the county, will the land acquired be taken off the tax rolls?

Islander said:

To follow the direction Jeff Shaw was headed, the base reason that the "philanthropists" are pledging money to the river is to not have to pay taxes on the income their family trusts have made. So, in effect, the average citizen is being asked to pay for the pretties that the "donors" are putting along the river that will have the names of the trusts on them.

And I also wonder who is paying for the land acquisition for the pocket parks which the financiers will put their names on...the trusts or the citizens of Tulsa County?

I refer back to the era of Skelly and Mayo, who put money or collateral up front to build the Tulsa Airport (the "Stud Horse Note"), and then when the facility was in use, asked for reimbursement of their seed money. These days it seems the reimbursement comes before the seed.

I would like to see the river have water in it, for which I am willing to pay my fair share. But to be pushed to do so because someone else doesn't want to pay taxes on money they've made and placed in a trust to keep from paying taxes, seems to be unfair.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 1, 2007 11:45 PM.

PGA cleanup, the river tax, and other Tulsa blog spottings was the previous entry in this blog.

County commission sets vote is the next entry in this blog.

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