A round-up of river tax ponderings and imponderables

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If the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee is as diligent and vigilant a watchdog as we're being told they are, how did they miss noticing that the arena was going to go way over budget when there was time to prevent the crisis?

If Hurricane Katrina caused the arena to go more than $50 million over budget, how come it didn't have a similar effect on the cost of any other project?

The Tulsa County Vision Trust decided to allocate extra funding to the arena, because the estimated cost was wrong. Couldn't they have done the same thing for the low-water dams and Zink Dam work promised in Vision 2025? And couldn't they have decided to allocate less of the surplus receipts for the arena and hold some surplus back for the dams?

Some of my fellow Tulsa bloggers are wondering about the river tax, too. First, let's hear from some bloggers that are new to me

Jason Kearney writes that "[n]o one was a bigger supporter of Vision 2025" than he was, but he's voting no on the October 9th sales tax increase. Among some of his many reasons:

For example, developers do not REQUIRE tax dollars to move forward with these projects, they just WANT them. Who wouldn't? I can understand the county giving them a tax break for a few years, but they do not need tax dollars. County Commissioner Randi Miller has proven by her actions that she has much to gain with all of her maneuvering in this. She screwed the Bell family out of their fifty-year family business, and now she wants to stick it to the tax payers.

Jason's entry also recounts the history of Jerry Gordon and the development of Jenks' Riverwalk Crossing. And in his most recent entry, he demolishes the PR spin from the Tulsa Metro Chamber on their economic impact numbers:

My first question was this: "Is it true that the current river development in Jenks, which is wildly popular and financially successful, was built with no tax increase at all?" Her answer: "Yes."

My second question: "Is it true that the majority of the 10,000 jobs she is speaking about are low paying construction jobs, which will only last until the low water dams are complete?" Her answer: "Yes."

My third question: "If Tulsa votes down this sales tax increase, is it true that the commercial developers will still be allowed to build shops, restaurants, and condos along the river?" Her answer: "Yes."

My fourth question: "Isn't it true that the George Kaiser Foundation has already donated $20 million to enhance trails in the Riverparks area, and that work has already begun on these developments?" Her answer: "Yes."

And then there's Jason's take on the media blitz in support of the tax:

Anytime the county and the news media have to engage in a smoke and mirrors game to make the public believe that this tax has the full support of the public, anytime a PR firm has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to use children to make you feel guilty if you vote against it, there is something wrong.

Cindy Downes, a 57-year-old empty nest mom who is going to college, attended the "debate" last week at TCC, and she had to write a paper on the event as a class assignment. It's a well-written, detailed report, and you should read the whole thing. Cindy says it wasn't really a fair fight:

They had four speakers: Winn Estrada, who was against the River project; Robert Nichols, who was supposedly impartial; and Victor Muse and Randi Miller who were for the project. Winn Estrada had 10-15 minutes. The rest of the time was taken by the other three, with the majority of the time used by Randi Miller.

Victor Muse, the student debater in favor of the tax cited the Three Gorges Dam project in China as a positive example of river development. In fact, Three Gorges is a classic example of totalitarian environmental overreach, damaging the environment, archaeological sites, matchless scenery, and ancient cities, displacing two million people and a way of live dependent on the ability to navigate the Yangtze River. It's an example of the damage a totalitarian government can cause because there is no place for opposition groups that might challenge the government's plans.

Cindy went on to report some classic Randi Miller moments:

I asked about the eagles and she stated that the project would not affect this eagle habitat. I then asked to hear from Winn exactly why he thought it would. She said she did not come to debate her "constituents;" however, note that her whole speech up to this point was a "debate" against her constituent. She did give him the microphone briefly, but she kept talking about not debating her constituent and he was not able to get the "floor" back to adequately answer the question.

Someone then asked about the condition of the roads and why we should not fix them first. Her answer was that there is already $200M set aside for roads in Tulsa. There is some kind of "Bottleneck" that they are trying to figure out why this money is not getting used. They "think" it is because there are not enough companies in Oklahoma to do road repair and she encouraged the students to start a business in road repair as there is a definite need.

She ended with the statement that if this doesn't pass, it will be 20 years before it can come to the table again.

20 years? And has Mayor Taylor investigated this $200 million that Miller says is set aside for roads but isn't being spent?

You might think a blogger called CycleDog would be all for this tax plan, but no:

Some of the arguments in favor of the proposition have been downright silly. The latest was in today's newspaper, arguing that building a new park will attract droves of young people to area businesses, and these new folks will contribute so much money to the economy that the city will be able to rebuild our crumbling roads and road infrastructure. These people must have attended that same voodoo economic course as the Reagan administration.

Don't misunderstand me - I'm not opposed to paying taxes when the money goes to something that provides real, tangible benefits. But when faced with a stark choice - a local school or a distant park - the right choice is very clear.

And commenter Ryan responded:

I have friends that have transplanted from San Diego, for the sole reason of being able to afford a new home, and even they never had to pay such a high sales tax to live in a city with sports stadiums and one of the nicest parks I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. I won't lie, I'm not an expert in city planning or budget, but I do know there's something wrong when this city can't develop without raising our sales tax to something that even ex-California residents scoff at.

Debb at Okie Mom Confessions confesses her reasons for a no vote on October 9th. She asks some great questions:

Vision 2025 addressed some of this already, the 2 low water dams & the shoreline beautification was to be addressed from funds from Vision 2025. Why are we, essentially paying for it yet again? Where did the money go?...

How successful will Glenpool, Skiatook, Collinsville, Broken Arrow, and Owasso be in financing their cities if the county has already pushed the taxpayers to the limit?

If we cannot already support what we have, how will we maintain an even larger expanse of parks & bridges, dams, etc., that will need a lot of costly spending for upkeep?...

MySpacer Ferdinandy gives his top 10 reasons for voting no, including:

6. CORPS of ENGINEERS APPROVAL: We don't even have approval to alter the river from the Corps yet. What happens if we vote to tax ourselves and the Corps of Engineers says "NO!" Do we get our money back?

8. COUNTY GOVERNMENTS SHOULDN'T BE IN SALES TAX BUSINESS: Sales tax is (in most responsible budgeting plans) used by cities to take care of city issues. When counties get in the sales tax business....well...there's just not enough to go around.

Some LiveJournal-ists are talking about tax. dividedjoy writes:

i don't even think they know what they want to do, all the ads and info just keep saying how badly we need this tax...but no good reasons of why besides it being for "Tulsa's future yay!!!"

part of it is that they want to build a series of low water dams - which have not been approved by the corp of engineers AND which the us fish and wildlife service says would very badly screw up the ecosystem in and around the river not just in tulsa, but up and downstream as well...they also want to build a pedestrian bridge down by 61st street...you know, by the stinky water treatment plant...

And lbangs has launched a river tax comment thread on the Tulsa Time LiveJournal community:

I'm all for smart city development, but gee, most of the studies commissioned to study this proposal will not even be finished by the time the vote comes to the public.

I'm sorry, but that is plain idiotic.

Is it too much to ask for some intelligence in our planning? I'm seeing a lot of hype and hoopla, plenty of smoke and mirrors, and precious little facts or truth.

And just who exactly is paying for all these moronic television ads trying to make you feel like you hate cute little children if you vote against this potential city-wide folly?

Somebody with deep pockets has a lot to gain from this project.

But don't look now; it ain't you or me.

And now let's turn to some of our long-time blogpals:

Jeff Shaw is pondering the magic formula:

Underestimated costs + Overestimated benefits = Project approval

And he finds this nugget of wisdom in a report called How Optimism Bias and Strategic Misrepresentation Undermine Implementation:

Lawmakers, investors, and the public cannot trust information about costs, benefits, and risks of large infrastructure projects produced by promoters and planners of such projects.

More recently, Jeff is wondering about the latest wild claim of 10,000 new jobs if the river tax passes, and he puts that big number into perspective.

Steve Roemerman is wondering how a fiscally conservative congressman can endorse a tax increase, and he wonders whether the congressman had certain facts in front of him when he made his decision. Steve's readers have been pondering the same question, as have some of Jeff Shaw's readers.

"Mad Okie" uses Google Maps to illustrate the differences between the waterside developments in Indianapolis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City and what's being proposed in Tulsa. Hint: Note the width of the relevant body of water. And he takes issue with an unnamed state rep, quoted in a KOTV story saying that the river plan "would bring more entertainment options for everyone."

The people of the North Side, West Side, East Side, and South side dont care about "entertainment options", especially when the people pushing these "entertainment options" are the same people that evicted BELLS, a real entertainment option!

Bobby at Tulsa Topics (back to blogging again!) has a similar concern:

Thanks to the same people who want you to give them more money via the upcoming River Tax vote.... you will not be seeing the Zingo or the rest of Bells at the state fair this year.

I find it ironic, the flagrant use of kids on all the hack ads that the vote yes camp has been running on the tube lately, when the same group killed a long standing family tradition here in Tulsa.

MeeCiteeWurkor has ideas on protecting your "No River Tax" sign from getting stolen, and a guest contributor has been following developments in Sand Springs, including the Sand Springs City Council's vote to endorse the tax hike.

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7 Comments

Cindy Downes Author Profile Page said:

Glad to find your blog. I've bookmarked it and will refer to it for more classwork!

s said:

Cindy, be sure and let your TCC student government know about Batesline.com so that they can get this blog can be on their facebook and web personal sites. They need to be informed correctly about what the issues are in voting.

Terrific reporting Michael. Corps of Engineers have not given the approval -- why are we going ahead with this vote.

Yes, the developers will be going ahead and making their money without this vote being passed! This vote will just make them richer
and the wider trails were already going to happen -- good you pointed that out about the money being donated that has nothing to do with this vote. It's a tax write off for Kaiser anyway.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

I would give a months wages if just one politician would announce he or she sees the folly of building toys instead fixing the streets and water system. te longer we wait the more expensive the foundational issues are to solve. and all these new taxes dry up the funds to use for the solutions.
WHY WHY WHY MAYOR TAYLOR AND COMMISSIONER DUMBELL

Cindy Downes said:

Here is the ballot for the River Tax (http://www.tulsacounty.org/SampleBallots/2007/SplCountyElectOct907.pdf). Notice the wording:

PROPOSITION

“SHALL THE COUNTY OF TULSA,OKLAHOMA, BY ITS BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, LEVY AND COLLECT A FOUR-TENTHS OF ONE PERCENT (4/10%) SALES TAX FOR THE PURPOSE OF ARKANSAS RIVER CORRIDOR DEVELOPMENT WITHIN TULSA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, AND/OR TO BE APPLIED OR PLEDGED TOWARD THE PAYMENT OF PRINCIPAL AND INTEREST ON ANY INDEBTEDNESS, INCLUDING REFUNDING INDEBTEDNESS,INCURRED BY OR ON BEHALF OF TULSA COUNTY FOR SUCH PURPOSE, SUCH SALES TAX TO COMMENCE ON JANUARY 1, 2008, AND CONTINUING THEREAFTER TO DECEMBER 31, 2014?”

FOR THE PROPOSITION - YES
AGAINST THE PROPOSITION - NO

John Robertson said:

It seems reasonable debate is impossible. Maybe I'm being unreasonable. I look at the things the city and county officials have done so far: spending $74 million dollars to purchase a building not needed and not suitable, and forcing Bell's out and replacing it with NOTHING. Now they want us to trust their judgment with nearly $300 million dollars? The proponents have lots of pretty pictures but no details, no approvals by the Corps or other relevant agencies, and no vision of how this will proceed.

Will this promote small, locally-owned businesses, the kind that have made Cherry Street, Blue Dome, and Brady successful? Or will it be a feeding frenzy for big developers, national chains, and bankers? What is the philosophy behind economic development in Tulsa? There is one; even the absence of it is one. I would love to see the river developed in a responsible way that promotes the uniqueness and charm of Tulsa. I don't think that is what supporters have in mind, but they won't talk about that. It's a secret. They leave people like me forced to vote no.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

1) "FOR THE PURPOSE OF ARKANSAS RIVER CORRIDOR DEVELOPMENT WITHIN TULSA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA" - Does this not require the project to follow the incog plan?

2) "AND/OR TO BE APPLIED OR PLEDGED TOWARD THE PAYMENT OF PRINCIPAL AND INTEREST ON ANY INDEBTEDNESS, INCLUDING REFUNDING INDEBTEDNESS,INCURRED BY OR ON BEHALF OF TULSA COUNTY FOR SUCH PURPOSE" - financing this crap by debt should be a further reason to vote no. let them build things when the sales tax is collected. avoid the interest cost fees for a bond sale and underwriting.

Point two is where you see someone's pocket getting lined.

Peg said:

As someone who has recently moved to the Tulsa area from Philadelphia and as someone who is very well acquainted with the permit processes for major development, I have 2 comments:

1) If there was monies allotted for the low dams in the Vision 2025 program, why hasn't these funds been tapped to start the studies needed for the applicable permits? Raising the monies for the total cost of a project before the requirements by permitting agencies are known can seriously affect the final cost. Would that mean there will be a hook to hang the tax becoming semi-permanent?

Tulsa's sales tax on all sales will have an negative impact for economic development - why move into an area with a 10% sales tax and a state income tax?

2) Copy-catting other riverfront developments can lead to failure. Jenks development is successful because it is unique. The plan for this new development would be mainly adding a new outdoor mall and a glorified city park.

Philadelphia tried to copy Baltimore's successful harbor development. The centerpiece of the development was "The Marketplace." It was touted as a destination venue. Within 10 years the resturants closed and the shops left. The foot traffic declined drastically.

Philadelphia tried again. This time the development was planned to fit the needs of Philadelphia. There was mix use development: large performance areas, marinas, cultural museums and recreation space. The area is a success.

Tulsa would have a fantastic venue for competitive rowing and other collegate boating sports. Performance space would enhance the BOK center, by giving conventioneers a place to enjoy entertainments uniquely Tulsa. Maybe even having Bell's Amusement Park relocated in the area.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 29, 2007 10:50 PM.

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