Martinson explains his vote against the Mama Bear streets package

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An open letter from Tulsa District 5 City Councilor Bill Martinson, explaining his decision to vote against the two streets propositions on Tuesday's ballot:

Dear Tulsa Voter,

November 4th is just around the corner, and the citizens of Tulsa will be voting on two street propositions. Councilors Henderson, Christiansen, Bynum, Patrick, and ultimately Troyer, voted to place these propositions on the ballot. I, along with Councilors Gomez, Eagleton and Westcott voted against these proposals because we supported a comprehensive approach that would actually fix the streets. Out of respect for the process, (i.e., respecting a majority vote of the Council) I have kept a low profile. To this point, my comments have been limited to direct responses to direct questions concerning my opinion of the ballot proposals.

However, as Election Day nears, I feel obligated to make my opinions better known. This is for two reasons, both based on the increasing calls, conversations, and e-mails I have been receiving. First, there seems to be a wide spread impression that my relative silence on the propositions is an unspoken endorsement. Not only do I NOT endorse the propositions, I intend to vote NO on both on November 4th. Second, the public has received limited information from those supporting the propositions as to the long-term impact their passage would have on Tulsa and its citizens. I hope that the following will help explain my position and provide a basis for those interested in making a fact-based decision at the polls.

As Chair of the City Council's Streets Sub-Committee, I was intimately involved in studying Tulsa's street deficiencies. We consulted with external experts, former elected officials, and the Public Works department. We found that years and decades of neglect have created a multi-billion dollar problem; the magnitude of which, no one disputes.

The Sub-Committee, working closely with Public Works and other City departments, spent months developing a comprehensive approach to address the problem. That effort led to a proposal that would have ensured the long term commitment necessary to restore and maintain our infrastructure. Unfortunately, that proposal is not on the ballot thanks to some last minute maneuvering by the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce.

In the early 1980's, Tulsa had over 220 employees assigned to street maintenance; today we have 69. Yet, we have doubled the number of lane miles in the City during that time. As a point of reference, there are enough lane miles in Tulsa to take you from New York City to Los Angeles and back to Tulsa with miles to spare (you would also encounter a signalized intersection every 10 miles along the way). Expecting 69 employees, 50 of which are actually in the field, to provide reactive maintenance (e.g., filling pot holes), much less routine and preventive maintenance, on that much pavement is absurd. The proposal that I supported provided restoring 100 of those positions over time. In addition to these positions that would have enabled us to effectively and efficiently extend the life of our streets, we also provided additional funding for right of way maintenance, graffiti abatement, and traffic engineering in order to address dangerous intersections and improve traffic flow. Furthermore, we had included $120 million for street widening in south Tulsa.

The Mayor in a matter of weeks, if not days, developed the propositions on the November 4th ballot. The propositions provide minimal resources for street maintenance, no additional funding for right of way maintenance, graffiti abatement or traffic engineering and have NO funding for widening. While the ballot propositions may hold the pavement condition relatively steady, the backlog of work will increase by $64 million. In addition to increasing the backlog, the limited funding for routine and preventive maintenance will mean that our streets will deteriorate more rapidly than necessary and ensure that our cost will be much higher in the end.

The Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce are promoting the propositions on the ballot as the first step in a master plan. Yet, no one has developed, or is developing, the next step, which means there is no plan. That burden will fall on a future Mayor and future City Councilors. Not only will those officials face a massive street need (even the advocates of the ballot propositions admit this), they will have to fund several years of deferred capital requirements that are being ignored in the current ballot propositions. If these propositions pass, the additional costs to the taxpayers once these ballot propositions expire will be enormous.

Some argue that the comprehensive approach would have tied up our funding sources for too long and that the current ballot proposals would provide Tulsa with flexibility to address future needs. I personally cannot envision a future need that would surpass our immediate need to fix our deteriorating streets (again, no one disputes the financial magnitude of the problem). As to the comprehensive approach tying up future funding sources, I believe the exact opposite is true. In order to reach the same pavement condition in the same timeframe as the longer comprehensive approach, two shorter initiatives will cost hundreds of millions dollars more - hundreds of millions of dollars going to streets that could have been saved and dedicated elsewhere.

Others argue that since Tulsa is updating its Comprehensive Plan and modes of transportation may change, a shorter plan makes sense. Regardless of any changes to the Comprehensive Plan, Tulsa will need adequate streets. People will live in houses and will need to get to work and go to stores. Unless we all begin walking or bicycling where we need to go, and expect visitors to Tulsa to do the same, I cannot see a fundamental shift away from needing a reliable street system, especially over the next twelve years.

Some have said that the comprehensive approach would never pass because it would cost too much money. To put things in perspective, the difference in cost to a taxpayer living in a $100,000 house between the comprehensive plan that I supported and the plan on the November 4 ballot is approximately $8 per year, less than a $1 per month.

I doubt that anyone in Tulsa wants to see our streets fixed more than I do. In my opinion, the street propositions on November 4th ballot will not fix the fundamental problems relating to our streets. Furthermore, they will ultimately cost the taxpayers of Tulsa hundreds of millions of dollars more than necessary. Accordingly, I will be voting NO on both propositions.

Some contend that the current ballot proposals are a start, or at least better than nothing. I disagree. I believe that kind of approach and mentality has put us where we are today. Until Tulsans and their elected officials acquire the courage and discipline to actually solve the problem, the streets in our City will continue to decline. The City Council's Streets Sub-Committee spent many months conducting a complete analysis and developing a comprehensive plan that would fix Tulsa's streets. If the ballot propositions fail, that plan can be placed on the first legally available ballot following November 4th election.

Bill Martinson
Tulsa City Councilor, District 5

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Pamela Author Profile Page said:

He is my councilman. He is probably right on some of this. However there was too much other stuff in the plan to suit me. I also will never trust our local officials with a 12-year anything. I have lost count of how many times I have voted regarding taxes to fix the streets. I absolutely refuse to vote for any more streets packages until the city is forced to check their budgets and cut spending. We can wait a little longer for them to take the time to come up with a package that will do the job without the pork spending and where it is not so long a project.

After the crafters of the Vision 2025 (I realize this was a county tax) linked the tax funds for schools to the arena I have become pretty sour in voting for tax increases in general. In the past I would at least check the merits of the projects and vote accordingly. It did not help my attitude seeing how our mayor had the city added to a lawsuit we were not a part of to give away 7.1 million city dollars to her friends. I absolutely refuse to vote again for another tax increase of any kind until she is out of office. I don't care what it is for at this point. That 7.1 million could have gone to hire new employees to inspect/fix the streets as we have been screaming for ever since she got in office. Do we really need this tax, since the benefactors are more of her friends????

I could not wait to vote NO on these proposals. That will continue at this point.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

Martinson's two billion dollar proposal has already been accused of being a pork laden pot. The 30-million dollar pair of fire trucks and the 60-plus million dollar accounting system have achieved some degree of fame. His tax numbers make no sense. He claims a spending package that is about four and a half times as much a mama bear can be paid for by an additional eight dollars per year. That means his example property tax for mama bear must be somewhere between two and three dollars per year. Granted, I'm not the accounting genius that Martinson is, but that strikes me as being a trifle low.

As much as we would all like to drive on gold plated streets, that has to be balanced against the undesirability of high taxes. For example, word has it that property taxes in Osage county are a heck of a lot less than Tulsa. And Osage county dwellers still have reasonably ready access to Tulsa.

Then there is Tulsa's crime. I direct your attention to the FBI chart.
Compare Tulsa's 2007 burglary rate of 1,793 per 100,000 population to Broken Arrow's rate of 476 to Bixby's rate of 370 to Jenks' rate of 342, and one might reasonably conclude that Tulsa is at a severe disadvantage. Even OKC's rate of 1,496 is lower. It's looking like Tulsa might qualify as the crime capitol of Oklahoma. Tulsa's murder rate per 100,000 population so far this year exceeds OKC. If it makes you feel any better, St. Louis' 2007 burglary rate of 2,093 still tops Tulsa's. But, by golly, we're doing our best to close the gap.

May I suggest that Tulsa's dubious distinction as Oklahoma's crime capitol is more of a disincentive to new residents and business than its streets. But then, it's probably harder to pad justice system budgets with gobs of pork than monster street packages. So it's easy to understand why Martinson is all for the pork enhanced papa bear aka pigbear (which is not the same as manbearpig ... Google it if you don't know).

Brian Blackwell Author Profile Page said:

It's the same as always. Instead of prioritizing spending, let's just go get some more money from the taxpayers. I'm glad I live in Bixby. However, I work in Tulsa. So I have to drive on the streets too. But, I wouldn't vote for any streets deal in Tulsa, until the 5-10 $100K/year staff employees for the may are no longer employed.

By the way, I shop and eat out in Tulsa all the time, so my sales tax goes to Tulsa too. And, boy ain't it a grand thing that our sales tax is already one of the highest in the region. YEEHAW!!! Let's pass another sales tax increase. Man, that's an economic incentive package if I've ever heard of one.

These people should all be in prison.

Brian Blackwell Author Profile Page said:

Curse my lack of proof reading and curse the lack of editing capabilities after posting on the comments section.

The staff employees that I referred to work for the Mayor..not the may.

Thanks you...carry on.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

Here's a quote for you from an article on by a British reporter writing on the USA election. It is about the success of NYC mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. This is choice stuff very appropriate for Tulsa.

"Mayors here have more power than those at home, but there are two big lessons for government that our rulers simply refuse to take: if you want to make a city work, then get really tough with criminals, and have someone in charge who hates spending money.

Zero tolerance really has worked here: and Mr Bloomberg, like Mr Giuliani, holds himself to account about the way in which citizens' dollars are spent.

There is no hidden agenda. Would that be so impossible for us to achieve at home?"

The full article is at

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 31, 2008 7:32 PM.

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