October 2012 Archives

There are six state questions on the November 6, 2012, general election ballot in Oklahoma. All of them are constitutional amendments, requiring a vote of the people, and all of them are legislative referenda -- questions initiated by the legislature, rather than by initiative petition.

The state election board has the language that will appear on the ballot, but to look at the actual language that will go into the Oklahoma Constitution, you have to go to the Oklahoma Secretary of State's website. There's a special page for proposed questions, with PDFs of the relevant legislation and the verbatim proposed changes to the state constitution. (Unlike amendments to the U. S. Constitution which are tacked on at the end, Oklahoma constitutional amendments directly add to, delete from, and modify the text of the constitution.) The links on each state question name will take you directly to the Secretary of State's PDF for that question, so you can read the whole thing for yourself.

A quick summary of how I plan to vote:

SQ 758: NO
SQ 759: YES
SQ 762: NO
SQ 764: NO
SQ 765: YES
SQ 766: YES

SQ 758 takes the existing 5% cap on annual increase in taxable property value and reduces it to 3% for residential homestead and agricultural property. I'm persuaded by Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel's argument that this measure would shift some of the tax burden from property owners in rapidly appreciating areas to property owners where values are relatively stable. Putting a cap on valuation doesn't put a cap on tax rates.

Property taxes come in two flavors. There are straight millages that support schools, county government, the library, the health department, the community college, the vo-tech school. As taxable value increases, the amount of property tax increases by the same proportion. For these taxes, a limit on the increase in taxable value also limits the increase in taxes.

Then there are millages that vary to cover bond issues and court judgments and settlements for cities and school districts. A little more than a third of my annual property tax bill falls into this category.

General obligation bond issues and civil settlements and judgments are paid out of a "sinking fund" which then has to be replenished. The county excise board determines how much replenishment is needed each year and the amount is divided among property owners in proportion to taxable value. It's a simple fraction -- the numerator is the demanded amount of tax revenue, as approved by the excise board; the denominator is the taxable value of property in the jurisdiction as determined by the county assessor in accordance with state law, which sets valuation caps and freezes.

If the taxable value grows at a slower pace because of a cap on taxable value increase, it doesn't change the amount that has to be covered by property taxes; it just means a higher millage is required to generate the same amount of revenue. This means that even seniors with a valuation freeze will see their property taxes go up.

And because this cap only applies to homesteads and agricultural properties, SQ 758 would shift the burden of replenishing the sinking fund to residential landlords and commercial property owners. That extra cost will be passed on to shoppers (who will pay the store's higher lease costs or higher taxes), employers (who will have less money for salaries and benefits), and those who live in rental property. Among residential homeowners, the tax burden will shift from those with rapidly appreciating properties to those with frozen or slow-growing valuations.

Assessor Yazel has a chart (p. 10 of this PDF) showing the gap of a little more than 6% between fair market value and taxable value in the 15 years since taxable value caps and freezes were enacted. Looked at another way, taxable value lags fair market value by about two years. That lag, however, is not evenly distributed, although it is narrowing as fair market value has flattened in recent years.

If the goal is to keep property tax levels under control, we need to work on the numerator of that fraction:

  • City attorney should aggressively defend against lawsuits, and there should be incentives to encourage that. (As things stand, cities can save general fund sales tax dollars by capitulating to lawsuit demands, which are paid by property tax dollars. That incentive needs to go away. If there's a financial judgment against the city, the responsible elected officials, managers, and employees should bear some of the cost.)
  • Keep bonded indebtedness from increasing. Only pass new G.O. bond issues when old ones expire.
  • Make excise board members more directly accountable to the people. Put watchdogs in those seats who will not merely rubber-stamp sinking fund requests from the taxing entities.

We should also have a review of fixed millage levels and determine whether they ought to be adjusted. Are they generating too much revenue for the taxing entities or too little?

My opposition to this measure puts me at odds with some frequent allies. Americans for Prosperity Oklahoma has endorsed SQ 758, as have State Rep. Jason Murphey, Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee. OCPA writes positively about the SQ 758, but with a caveat:

From a free-market, limited-government perspective, specifying and limiting potential increases in the fair cash value of a property -- which determines property taxes -- enables property owners to better budget taxes in advance and know how much money they will have left for spending, saving and investing in the private sector -- and that's all a positive. It's important to note, though, that this is not specifically a measure to lower property taxes; again, it's a measure to limit increases to the appraised market value of a property, which determines property taxes.

MORE: Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel has some excellent resources on his website explaining how property taxes work, where your money goes, and how to apply for the various types of property tax relief that the legislature has authorized over the years. While the stats are specific to Tulsa County, the rules and concepts apply statewide, controlled as they are by state constitution and statute.

Comedian Steven Crowder is at the church trunk-or-treat, and he's only trying to be fair. The kids don't think its fair.

"I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." -- candidate Barack Obama to Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbach, 2008.

Here's my second installment of fliers explaining why Vision2 hurts Tulsa County's municipalities and how these cities would be better off enacting a city sales tax to replace the Vision 2025 county sales tax when it expires on the last day of 2016. Specifically, this time, here's a better alternative to Vision2 for Bixby, Jenks, and Sand Springs. (Click here for fliers with a better vision for Broken Arrow, Glenpool, and Owasso.)

You'll notice that most of the reasons are the same from city to city. The key difference is in the money each city would get from Vision2 vs. how much they would get from a city tax of the same rate and duration. This tax would go into effect as soon as Vision 2025 expires, so that the overall sales tax rate wouldn't change.

The Vision2 amounts for each city are those that the proponents have publicized. The estimate of money that could be raised by a city sales tax of the same rate and duration is based on each city's sales tax receipts for the 12 months from October 2011 through September 2012. (One year's sales tax receipts / sales tax rate * 0.6% * 13 years.) I've rounded all numbers to the nearest million.

One of the big drawbacks of Vision2 for a growing suburb is that its percentage of the Vision2 Prop 2 tax receipts is frozen in time, based on its share of county population in 2010, no matter how much they grow in population and retail sales. By contrast, a city sales tax would grow as the city grows.

The contrast between a city's own vision and the Tulsa County Vision2 tax is most dramatic for Sand Springs, which could raise twice as much with a city tax to replace Vision 2025 than it will get from Vision2.

Click each image to download a corresponding ready-for-printing PDF. Opponents of Vision2 are welcome to copy and hand these out as long as you don't change it at all.




All images Copyright 2012 by Michael D. Bates. Limited license granted to opponents of Vision2 to copy and distribute without alteration prior to November 7, 2012.

If you're a registered Oklahoma voter and want to vote, but circumstances will have you away from your polling place all day election day, you have two options.

Absentee in person: The easy option is to go to your county election board during "absentee in-person" voting hours:

  • Friday, November 2, 2012, 8 AM - 6 PM
  • Saturday, November 3, 2012, 8 AM - 1 PM
  • Monday, November 5, 2012, 8 AM - 6 PM

The Tulsa County Election Board is at 555 N. Denver Ave, just across I-244/US-412 from downtown Tulsa. It's in a former Safeway supermarket building, a classic "Marina-style" with arched roof and glass front that the chain built in the 1960s.

You must go to the election board for the county in which you're registered to vote. If you live in Gilcrease Hills, for example, or western Skiatook, you have to go to Pawhuska to vote absentee in-person. If you live in the Spunky Creek neighborhood of Catoosa, you'd go to Claremore, but if you're in the Rolling Hills neighborhood, you have to go to Wagoner.

Absentee by mail: If you can't get to your county election board during those hours, you have one last opportunity to vote a traditional absentee ballot by mail. You can submit an application for an absentee ballot to your county election board; the county election board must receive the application by 5 p.m. today, Wednesday, October 31, 2012. You can apply in person or fax your application to the county election board.

Here's a direct link to the Tulsa County Election Board absentee ballot request, which has the fax number and instructions printed on it. Here's a direct link to the generic Oklahoma absentee ballot request.

The county election board will put a ballot in the mail, which, if all goes well, you'll have by Friday. You then need to vote the ballot, put it in the supplied sealed envelope, and then get a notary to witness and seal an affidavit that says it's really you voting the ballot. Get it in the mail ASAP -- in Tulsa a ballot mailed before pick-up time on Friday should be back to the election board by Tuesday. Absentee ballots must be returned by mail and will only be counted if they arrive at the county election board by 7 p.m. on election day.

(There are different rules for physically incapacitated voters, for voters in nursing homes, and for overseas and military voters. See the state election board's page on absentee voting in Oklahoma for details.)

Please note that postmarks don't count -- the application must be in the hands of the county election board by 5 p.m. today, and the ballot must be in the hands of the county election board by 7 p.m. election day.

I was interviewed midday Tuesday by Fox 23's Ian Silver about the fundraising gap between the proponents and opponents of Vision2.

The "vote yes" bunch reports donations of $562,952, and only $450 in contributions of $200 or less.

The opposition group Citizens for a Better Vision has had monetary contributions of $3,859.69, of which only $2,459.69 was in amounts of $200 or less, and has spent $2,977.44, mainly on signs and bumper stickers. Individuals have independently and directly spent money on things like buttons and Facebook ads. (For example, I paid for color copies of my "Better Vision for Tulsa" handout, so I could have something to distribute at the Leadership Tulsa luncheon.) Even with these independent expenditures, opposition spending that we know of is about $10,000.

A ratio of at least 50:1 is not at all surprising. Giving on previous tax proposals has been similarly lopsided. It can be explained by public choice theory -- concentrated benefits vs. diffuse costs. Those businesses who stand to make millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars if this tax passes have a strong incentive to invest tens of thousands of their own dollars in convincing the public to approve it. Because the tax is broad-based, there's no concentrated benefit if the tax fails, so no one has the same financial incentive to give tens of thousands of dollars to the "vote no" campaign. As I told Fox23's Silver:

The opposition, he said, is made up mostly of individuals digging into their own pockets, and using social media to spread the word.

"It's all grassroots," he said. "It's all individuals digging into their own savings, their own fun money to do something they think is important for the community."

Matt Galloway has put together a very helpful pie chart, grouping contributions to the Vision2 "vote yes" campaign by industry (click to embiggen):

Vision2 Follow the Money pie chart

The Fox23 report was well done, but I need to correct a couple of things:

The story makes a reference to the "Vision 2025 bond package." It may be a losing battle to insist upon the distinction between sales tax votes and general obligation bond issue votes, but "here I stand; I can do no other." The Vision 2025 election was a collection of four sales taxes, one of which never went into effect. The other three sales taxes, totaling 0.6%, went into effect on January 1, 2004, and will run until December 31, 2016. The Tulsa County Commission assigned the revenue stream to the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, then they put on their TCIA hats and borrowed money against these expected sales tax revenues by issuing revenue bonds, but the voters didn't directly vote to issue bonds. "Bond package" or "bond issue," in reference to an election, should be reserved to refer to "general obligation bond issues," in which voters authorize borrowing money for a specific project (bonds) to be repaid by an increase in property tax millage (the general obligation).

Silver says in the story:

Businesses like Bank of Oklahoma and Manhattan Construction Co. could make a lot of money off Vision2 projects, but the county will have to put all contracts for Vision2 projects out to bid. The county can't just award contracts to companies that donated the most.

If the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners are under such a restriction, there are ways around it. The Tulsa County Industrial Authority (whose board members are the three county commissioners) can waive competitive bidding on bond underwriting with the approval of two of the three commissioners. About a month after Vision 2025 was approved by the voters, the TCIA board granted sole-source contracts to two financial companies to handle bond underwriting, two law firms to provide bond attorney services, and the company that would handle program management for the tax package. Professional services, as I understand it, are also exempt from competitive bidding. (Can't find the reference right now.) And with the appropriate findings of an emergency, competitive bidding may even be waived on construction projects.

My blogpal Angel Clark is riding out Hurricane Sandy in Sussex County, Delaware, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. No internet where she is, but she was able to set up a blog entry with a collection of photos of Sandy damage along the Delaware shore -- Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany, and Fenwick Island.

If you were wondering how to calm your cat before a hurricane, Angel has the answer.

Delaware's beaches were a favorite destination of my wife's family during her childhood, we visited as a family just this summer, and I took several day-trips to the shore during some job-related trips to the state the year before, so it's amazing to see familiar scenes transformed dramatically by wind and water. Dune breaches have covered Delaware Route 1 -- the main coastal road -- with sand and water. Streets are flooded in every town along the coast.

For the latest updates, follow Angel on Twitter at @SussexAngelC or like the Angel Clark Show on Facebook. When the power and the internet are on, you can hear the Angel Clark Show every day from 4 pm to 6 pm Central time at angelclark.us.

A reader writes to tell me about a pro-Vision2 ad that ran on KOTV during the 5:30 pm Sunday newscast. The ad features County Commissioner Karen Keith and Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz. Glanz has been re-elected without opposition to a seventh four-year term as sheriff.

Oklahoma has an anti-electioneering ethics rule, 257:10-1-3 (b), which states: "A person shall not use or authorize the use of public funds, property, or time to produce, print, publish, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate material designed or timed to influence the results of an election for state office or a ballot measure, except political activities or statements inherent to or part of the function of a candidate or an elected officer or the performance of a state officer's or state employee's duties or as allowed by law, regardless of the lack of specific reference to election."

Glanz's uniform is public property and using the uniform in a campaign commercial would seem to qualify as using public property to produce material designed to influence the results of an election for a ballot measure. On the other hand, it could be argued that the rule above applies only to state officials and state ballot measures. On the other, other hand, it could be argued that counties are political subdivisions of the state and any rule applying to state officials flows down to officers of Oklahoma's political subdivisions.

In any event, Glanz would do well not to lend the prestige of his office and uniform to a losing campaign. Perhaps he can explain to us why the 4 to Fix the County 2 funds allocated to upgrade the juvenile justice facility were never used for that purpose, and why the new proposal is 15 times more expensive than the original proposal.

MORE: The ethics rule came to light recently when John Miley, an attorney to a state agency and the husband of an Oklahoma State Supreme Court justice, used a state computer to send email urging his wife's retention in the November 6 election.

I've been negligent. I did tweet about this brilliant video by Steven Roemerman, but had yet to post it here. Steven tried to call all three Tulsa County commissioners to invite them to speak to a neighborhood meeting on January 2, 2017, the day after the Vision2 tax will go into effect. He spoke to Fred Perry's assistant and to Commissioner Karen Keith.

Best quote goes to Commissioner Keith: "I think you better call back closer to that date, make sure I'm still alive."

So this tax that we'll be voting on in eight days was put on the ballot by one commissioner who will have been out of office for two years when the tax goes into effect and another commissioner who isn't sure if she'll survive until then.

NOTE: I'll be talking about Vision2 in studio with Pat Campbell and company on 1170 KFAQ, starting at 7:05 a.m. -- Monday morning, October 29, 2012.

On Saturday afternoon, I spoke at the invitation of the Tulsa Community Business Group, an organization that meets monthly to encourage the development of small businesses. During the first part of the program, we heard two small business owners tell their inspiring stories.

Don Walker, president of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, was there to speak in support of Tulsa County's Vision2 sales tax scheme; I was there to represent the opposition. We each had opportunity to speak, followed by Q&A with the audience.

Much of Walker's comments were devoted to defending Proposition 1, with its $214 million earmarked for buildings and equipment to be used by American Airlines and another $40 million for facilities that Spirit Aerosystems and IC Bus are contractually obliged to maintain, specifically including major upgrades and maintenance. (Walker made the odd claim that a different lease puts that same obligation on the City of Tulsa -- if I heard him right. Don't both parties to a contract sign the same contract?)

Prop 1 also includes an uncapped "deal closing" fund -- 70% of the revenues for the fund will be generated within the City of Tulsa, but Tulsa will only have one vote of seven on how it gets spent.

The most striking thing that Walker said was right at the end, and I wasn't given a chance to respond. He said he believes the "Tulsa economy is still somewhat fragile in this current election year and in the marketplace, and I believe it is imperative to send a signal to the aerospace industry that Tulsa is a place to do business."

Had I had the chance to respond, I would have pointed out that Walker is asking us to put the weight of a quarter of a billion dollars on that most fragile part of our economy. If we want to make our economy more resilient, more resistant to catastrophe, we should be diversifying our investments. We should be hedging our bets, not doubling down on the most risky bet.

Matt Galloway has put together a dramatic graphic showing how the revenues from Vision2 Proposition 1 would be spent for "economic development." (Click the thumbnail to view full size.)

Vision2's "Economic Development" plan graphically explained

It reminds me, of course, of a Texas Playboys song. The 1946-1947 Tiffany Transcriptions featured Bob Wills and his band performing popular tunes from a wide variety of genres, including this Irving Berlin number, sung by vocalist Tommy Duncan:

I'm putting all my eggs in one basket.
I'm betting everything I've got on you.
I'm giving all my love to one baby.
Lord help me if my baby don't come through.

Love, marriage, and faith may be the only realms in which all your eggs in one basket is a wise strategy. As GoEnglish.com explains for the benefit of non-native English speakers: "To 'put all your eggs in one basket' is to risk losing everything all at one time."

We're being asked to borrow $214 million now in hopes of keeping a company that is bankrupt, that may not emerge from bankruptcy, that has already cut over 1,000 positions in Tulsa and is likely to cut more, that may go out out of business before we begin generating the tax revenue to pay back the loans.

Tulsa would be far better off with 100 businesses with 70 employees each, in a variety of industries, than one vulnerable business in a shaky industry with 7,000 employees. The money for Prop 1 would be better left in the free market. As a capitalist, I believe that the free market is the most efficient, sustainable, and fair way to allocate capital. If government wants to help, it should get rid of senseless regulations that add to the start-up cost burden of new businesses.

MORE: I couldn't find Tommy Duncan singing this song, but here's Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers singing and dancing to "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket" in the movie Follow the Fleet.


Remember that Vision 2025's massive Boeing incentives were a separate ballot item (Prop 1), and had the proviso that the 0.4 cent sales tax would never be collected if Boeing put their 787 plant somewhere else. They did and the tax wasn't collected. The $22.3 million for American Airlines was also a separate ballot item: Vision 2025 Prop 2.

Vision2 is different: All the economic development proposals are lumped into one ballot item. (If Commissioners Smaligo and Perry are all about giving the voters the chance to decide, why didn't they let us decide on whether to help AA separately from a decision on the deal closing fund?)

County officials have been saying that they would demand that American Airlines, Spirit Aerosystems, and IC Bus sign commitments to the county before the county trust would release funds to assist them. Of course, AA is in no position, in the midst of bankruptcy, to make any commitments. They must have flexibility to restructure in hopes of future profitability.

So what would happen if these three companies refuse to agree to the county trust's terms? Based on the ballot language, the tax would still be collected in full. The airport projects are capped at a maximum value, but there's no commitment to a minimum value. Any money not spent on airport projects or debt service would go into the "deal closing" fund. It may well be that all of Prop 1 winds up being a funding source for the "deal closing" fund.

It's a week old now, but here's Bret Baier's report on the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on 9/11/2012. The timeline begins with the revolution to topple Moammar Ghadafi in 2011 and moves through the months that followed, including an assassination attempt on the British ambassador in June 2012. Those on the ground discuss the efforts to convince higher-ups to keep the same levels of security in Libya, as security incidents increased. The report continues through the Obama administration's response over the following weeks.

It ought to make you very angry.

Since this report, it's emerged that there may have been American close air support nearby to take out the forces attacking Americans in Benghazi. A ground laser designator was used to identify a target for destruction by US firepower in the air, such as an AC-130U gunship. Requests for help were denied.

Brak for President!

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"A vote for Brak is a vote for beans everyday!"

The original ad from 1952:

"We don't want John or Dean or Harry.
Let's do the big job right.
Let's get in step with the guy that's hep.
Get in step with Ike."

Many more presidential TV commercials here from 1952 to the present : "The Living Room Candidate."

This morning (Saturday, October 27, 2012) from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. there's a "Save the Republic" rally at LaFortune Park, featuring Tea Party activists and candidates, including 1st congressional district Republican nominee Jim Bridenstine. Citizens for a Better Vision will be there with yard signs and bumper stickers and will be happy to accept your contribution to pay for more ways to get the truth about Vision2 out to the voters. (My suggestion: Show up at the beginning of the rally, get your signs, stay for a few speeches, then drive a mile and a half west to get your walking or phoning assignment. Spending all day standing and listening to speeches is likely to be cold and won't do as much to save the republic as knocking doors or making calls for a candidate.)

Then from 2 - 4 p.m. I'll be down at Aaronson Auditorium, Central Library downtown, as one of the speakers at a community forum there, speaking in opposition to Vision2.

It's the next to last weekend for the election, and there are plenty of opportunities to help good candidates in close races.

Oklahoma Republican chairman Matt Pinnell's call to the troops from a couple of weeks ago is even more urgent now:

Our nominees' need your help, and in one area in particular, knocking doors.

Door to door campaigning is so effective because it accomplishes three important campaign goals, all with minimal cost: First, name ID. It builds positive name identification like direct mail cannot. Second, credibility. It shows that people really are actually supporting the candidate! And finally, turnout. It simply is the most effective method for encouraging people to vote.

Running a door-to-door canvas takes time and hard work, and to be honest, it's becoming harder and harder to find volunteers willing to walk for candidates....

I don't want to sound rude folks, but I really don't care about excuses anymore. If this election cycle won't get you off your backside, I don't know what will.

Look...we have a fantastic slate of candidates from the Courthouse to the State House and Senate that have stepped up to represent US. Please...I need you to help them. You a precinct captain? You have no excuse, it's your job. You a taxpaying citizen? No excuse, it's the future of your state and nation on the line.

Chairman Matt is right -- studies show that face-to-face, personal contact is the most effective way to mobilize voters to turn out for your favorite candidate.

Here's a list of all Republican legislative candidates on the November 6 ballot in Oklahoma, with contact phone numbers and email addresses, so you can contact them directly and see how they can use your help in these last 10 days of the campaign.

Right here in Tulsa's House District 71 (21st to 81st, Lewis to the River), Republican Katie Henke could really use your help. Long-time Tulsans may think this is a solid Republican district, because it's been held by Republicans for all but two years since its creation in 1964, and that Democrat won because the incumbent Republican had some problems that weren't discovered until too late for him to be challenged in a primary. (Warren Green, 1965-1976; Helen Arnold, 1977-1982; Bill Clark, 1983-1988; Rob Johnson, 1989-1994; John Sullivan, 1995-2001; Chad Stites, 2002; Roy McClain (the only D), 2003-2004; Dan Sullivan, 2004-2011.)

But boundaries and demographics have changed; Obama won 45% of the vote in this district in 2008.

House 71 was supposed to have been filled in April, but a special election was ruled "too close to call." Democrat Dan Arthrell appeared to have won by three votes, then Katie Henke won the recount by one vote, and then, suddenly, two votes were found stuck in a ballot box, both for Arthrell. The judge threw the election out, the seat remained vacant, and now we have a rematch between Henke and Arthrell.

You can walk for Katie Henke this morning (Saturday, October 27) at 10:30, gathering at the Tulsa County Republican Victory HQ, 2816 E. 51st St., and again tomorrow afternoon (Sunday, October 28) at the 2300 Riverside Drive condo tower at 1:00 pm.

You can also make phone calls from the Tulsa County Victory HQ on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights for various Republican candidates, including Oklahoma's congressional nominees.

Further afield, the Oklahoma Republican Party still has a few openings for volunteers to knock doors in Colorado for the Romney/Ryan ticket. You have to be willing to work hard -- you'll be out knocking eight hours a day for four days. Contact the state party HQ for more info. The bus leaves Sunday.

There's a competitive Senate race just 100 miles to our northeast. Republican Todd Akin is within 2 percentage points of incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill. This race could decide overall control of the U. S. Senate and may determine whether Obamacare can be repealed and replaced.

The closest competitive House race is here in eastern Oklahoma, but the next closest is down in southwestern Texas. Republican Quico Canseco beat the incumbent Democrat two years ago, and now a different Democrat is trying to return the favor. The district is highly competitive and covers a huge territory from San Antonio neighborhoods all the way west to the outskirts of El Paso. During my extended time in San Antonio on business in 2010, I volunteered to make calls for Quico and had the joy to be at his victory party on election night.

Even if you can't travel, the Romney/Ryan campaign and many senate and house campaigns are equipped to allow volunteers to phone from home from anywhere in the country. Visit your favorite candidate's website to learn more. And every competitive campaign could use more money. Consider making a contribution -- any amount helps.

Both candidates in the closely contested Oklahoma Senate District 39 race have taken a position on Vision2. Incumbent Brian Crain enthusiastically supports the Tulsa County 13-year, 0.6 cent tax scheme; challenger Julie Hall has expressed skepticism about the plan and the hasty, opaque process that produced it.

Sen. Brian Crain issued a press release in support of Vision2 shortly after the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee voted to oppose the tax plan and to censure the two Republicans on the Tulsa County Commission for putting it on the ballot.

"Tulsa County has an historic opportunity to secure the future of our area, both economically and in quality of life, by assuring our status as a center of aerospace maintenance. Not since the Spavinaw Lake project of the 1920s has a public investment in Tulsa County's future of this importance been submitted to a vote of the people." Crain continued by stating, "By their action, Commissioners Smaligo and Perry have proven to be strong and far-sighted stewards of our assets and resources."

Julie Hall, Crain's Democratic challenger, wrote the following comment on Facebook in reference to my comment about some Democratic officials support for "corporate welfare funded by a regressive tax":

I don't know that you can call it corporate welfare since we have no guarantees it will keep jobs in Tulsa. It may just be a boondoggle. I also don't believe it is as simple as whether Tulsans want progress - of course, we do. This process has lacked the public involvement and transparency we deserve before authorizing the expenditure of millions of dollars. We have time for a thoughtful, strategic plan. If it is worth doing....

I've started to put together a series of fliers explaining why Vision2 hurts Tulsa County's municipalities and how these cities would be better off enacting a city sales tax to replace the Vision 2025 county sales tax when it expires on the last day of 2016. Here are the first three, for Broken Arrow, Glenpool, and Owasso.

You'll notice that most of the reasons are the same from city to city. The key difference is in the money each city would get from Vision2 vs. how much they would get from a city tax of the same rate and duration. This tax would go into effect as soon as Vision 2025 expires, so that the overall sales tax rate wouldn't change.

The Vision2 amounts for each city are those that the proponents have publicized. The estimate of money that could be raised by a city sales tax of the same rate and duration is based on each city's sales tax receipts for the 12 months from October 2011 through September 2012. (One year's sales tax receipts / sales tax rate * 0.6% * 13 years.) I've rounded all numbers to the nearest million.

One of the big drawbacks of Vision2 for a growing suburb is that its percentage of the Vision2 Prop 2 tax receipts is frozen in time, based on its share of county population in 2010, no matter how much they grow in population and retail sales. By contrast, a city sales tax would grow as the city grows.

Click each image to download a corresponding ready-for-printing PDF. Opponents of Vision2 are welcome to copy and hand these out as long as you don't change it at all.

Vision2 vs. BrokenArrow

Vision2 vs. Glenpool

Vision2 vs. Owasso

All images Copyright 2012 by Michael D. Bates. Limited license granted to opponents of Vision2 to copy and distribute without alteration prior to November 7, 2012.

I'm sure Mitt Romney is too busy with his own campaign to pay attention to a sales tax election Tulsa County, Oklahoma, but several of the Republican presidential nominee's comments about government and business in tonight's third debate suggest he wouldn't support Vision2, the Tulsa County sales tax scheme on the November 6, 2012, ballot, particularly Proposition 1, which would spend over $200 million on building infrastructure and custom equipment to help American Airlines, another $40 million to help IC Bus and Spirit Aerosystems, and create an uncapped "deal closing" fund (at least $52 million, probably closer to $200 million) in which three county commissioners, three suburban mayors of their choosing, and the Mayor of Tulsa would pick companies to benefit from the fund.

romney_stop_vision2-200px.jpgWell, first of all, it's not government that makes business successful. It's not government investments that make businesses grow and hire people....

But the president mentioned the auto industry and that somehow I would be in favor of jobs being elsewhere. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry. My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that....

We in this country can compete successfully with anyone in the world. And we're going to. We're going to have to have a president, however, that doesn't think that somehow the government investing in -- in car companies like Tesla and -- and Fisker, making electric battery cars -- this is not research, Mr. President. These are the government investing in companies, investing in Solyndra. This is a company. This isn't basic research. I -- I want to invest in research. Research is great. Providing funding to universities and think tanks -- great. But investing in companies? Absolutely not. That's the wrong way to go.

And that -- and that's why it's so critical that we make America once again the most attractive place in the world to start businesses, to build jobs, to grow the economy....

By the way, I'm speaking at the Tulsa Republican Club luncheon today about Vision2. It's at the Summit Club, 30th floor of the Bank of America Building, 15 W. 16th St. Buffet lunch ($20) served starting at 11:30, program begins at 12 noon. You can join the club for $25 annual dues.

American Airlines is outsourcing its Boeing 777 maintenance to Hong Kong. They're bringing the 767 maintenance to Tulsa. Boeing will maintain AA's new 737s and 787s, and another US company will maintain the 757s.

About these Wichita Industrial Revenue Bonds: They're loans that the benefiting business has to pay back, not grants paid by sales tax or property tax revenue. The business gets cheaper money, because earnings on municipal bonds are tax-exempt.

The issuer is a passive conduit whose role is essentially to lend its status as a municipal corporation to the transaction - no obligation to pay bondholders; no credit enhancement.

It's structured differently, but Tulsa County Industrial Authority (a trust with the three county commissioners as trustees) does the same sort of thing; they call it conduit debt. I'm still learning about IRBs, but it appears that Kansas laws also allow cities to grant IRB recipients certain tax exemptions as well. But no, Wichita is not using sales tax revenues to purchase equipment for a major employer as Tulsa County wants to do. It's just that the Wichita Eagle reports on these deals, while the Tulsa World ignores them, for the most part.

(Bob Weeks of WichitaLiberty.org can tell you all you might want to know about Wichita's various economic development incentives and their frequent abuse.)

If the Tulsa World insists on referring to Tea Party organizer and Citizens for a Better Vision leader Ronda Vuillemont-Smith as a failed candidate for office, shouldn't the World always put "part owner and promoter of a failed airline" on the masthead after its own name? Why should anyone listen to the economic development advice of anyone who thought taxpayer funding for Great Plains Airlines was a good idea?

And regarding the City of Tulsa's hastily assembled Vision2 list:

Did you know that the City of Tulsa's list of Vision2 projects could change?

The following public projects may be assigned the following sums....

Our family loves our local library system. I'm happy they have a recession-proof funding source. But the Tulsa City-County Library has over $24 million in an investment fund (as of July 31, 2012), and half of that amount is "designated for the Central Library project, the remainder for building systems replacements." The Tulsa Library has a dedicated property tax that brought in $26,070,310.69 during Fiscal Year 2011-2012. Thanks to the 5% valuation escalator, taxable values are still climbing despite a downturn in market values, so library revenues are doing well, too. So why is the City of Tulsa planning to give the library system another $10 million out of our precious and limited city sales tax dollars? Just so they know we love them?

In 2005, Tulsa citizens approved a general obligation bond issue (funded by property tax) which included $18 million for a new Fire Department regional training facility (see p. 6-4), to be located on the North Campus of TCC. "The College, who will be a joint operator of the facility, will provide area Fire Departments training related to fire fighting, hazardous incident response, emergency life support and security incident response." TCC also has a dedicated and ample source of property tax revenue. So why did the City Council vote to allocate another $7 million of precious and limited city sales tax funds for a project we already paid for back in 2005?

Will the identical $4.3 million each for the OU/TU Medical School, OSU-Tulsa, and Langston U. actually be sufficient to pay for a project to be completed, or are these just little gratuities to let each of them know we really, really, really appreciate them? Should ORU feel offended for being left out?

Is it just me or are there several Vision2 items that resemble buying a spoiled child a present so he won't pitch a fit at his sister's birthday party?

In a recent issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, Terry Simonson, who left his position as Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's chief of staff under an ethical cloud, makes a very weak case for de-annexing the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (aka Expo Square) from the City of Tulsa.

Over the history of the Fairgrounds' existence at their current location, various portions have been inside and outside the city limits. In 2007, the City Council voted to annex all 230-some acres of it, to be effective in January 2009. The delay was the result of a deal between then-Mayor Kathy Taylor and the county commission. County commissioners, who double as members of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the Fair Board), warned of dire consequences to the prosperity of Expo Square and the city if the annexation went through. Because the City surrounded the unincorporated territory on all four sides, it did not need the consent of the owner -- Tulsa County -- to complete the annexation.

(Note that Simonson neglects to inform the readers that three of the TCPFA trustees are the county commissioners, and the other two members are appointed by the county commissioners.)

As Simonson himself acknowledges, the years since annexation have been good years for Expo Square. The Tulsa State Fair has "come out ahead" the last three years -- all three years the fairgrounds have been completely within the city limits. The Arabian Horse Show renewed its contract through 2017. Gun shows continue to draw big crowds.

Having to collect city sales tax and comply with city regulations hasn't hurt Expo Square's ability to attract trade shows, horse shows, and other special events, and it hasn't hurt the Tulsa State Fair.

Despite the success Expo Square has enjoyed during its time within the city limits, Simonson calls for its deannexation:

Because Expo Square tries to operate free of intrusive government regulations and politics, it's time to turn back the clock and for the city council to de annex the fairgrounds. Some will remember that in an ill-fated and short-sighted attempt to shore up its own failing financial picture, the city believed in 2009 that if it imposed the city's sales tax on sales at the fairgrounds, and charge the fairgrounds city utility rates, it would be a tremendous financial windfall. It was never going to be, and it hasn't proven to be. Instead, Expo now spends over $148,000 on utility charges it didn't have to pay, has to deal with the inspection, permitting, and other city government red tape regulations.

I don't like intrusive regulations and politics either, but if a city regulation is unjustified, Simonson should work for its repeal citywide, not try to get a special exemption for the Fairgrounds. If a city regulation is reasonable, it should apply to everyone.

What Simonson wants, really, is what any landlord would love to have: The ability to lure tenants away from other landlords with the promise of tax and regulatory exemptions. That's hardly fair to landlords who can't offer the exemption, especially when everyone depends on the same public services.

Whether or not collecting city sales taxes at the Fairgrounds has been a windfall, Fairgrounds retail sales now contribute their fair share towards the upkeep of the city streets that allow people to reach the Fairgrounds, the upkeep of the city storm sewers that carry stormwater away from the Fairgrounds (a considerable amount since so much of the 230+ acres is impermeable), and the cost of city police and fire protection for the Fairgrounds and environs.

One of the most important benefits of having the Fairgrounds within the city limits is that the planning of its future development will be done in conjunction with planning for the adjoining neighborhoods, guided by the City of Tulsa's comprehensive plan, with the involvement of City of Tulsa planning staff, and with the final say of the Tulsa City Council. I suspect that eliminating this independent oversight of Fairgrounds development is the real aim of Simonson's push for deannexation.

When the Fairgrounds was outside the city limits, there were no checks and balances over land use changes. The TCPFA, made up of the three county commissioners and two people they appoint, would propose a special exception or variance, and the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) would approve it. Or the TCPFA (three county commissioners plus two people they appoint) would propose a zoning change or comprehensive plan amendment, the TMAPC would make a recommendation, and the county commissioners could vote for the TCPFA's proposal regardless of the TMAPC's recommendation. There was no one looking at proposed changes to land use at the Fairgrounds to mitigate any impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

This is the heart of the issue: With Drillers Stadium and the old Tulsa City-County Health Department likely to be redeveloped, just across 15th Street from a residential area, City of Tulsa planning staff and City of Tulsa councilors should evaluate any of the TCPFA's redevelopment plans in accordance with the comprehensive plan and the zoning code. Terry Simonson and his former county bosses don't want that, it would seem.

Simonson makes a very misleading statement near the end of his essay:

The state and local economies have improved enough that the city council should do the right thing by giving Expo Square back to the TCPFA.

The city never took Expo Square away from the TCPFA. The Fairgrounds are owned, as they have been for decades, by Tulsa County. Just like the County Courthouse, the David L. Moss Correctional Center, County Election Board, LaFortune Park, the county road barn at 56th and Garnett -- all owned by Tulsa County, but within the Tulsa city limits and governed by the City of Tulsa's ordinances. Other county properties are within the limits of other Tulsa County municipalities -- Haikey Creek Park, for example. Simonson isn't calling for deannexation of those county properties; why should Expo Square be any different?

MORE: Some past BatesLine articles and Urban Tulsa Weekly op-eds about annexation:

November 2006: Annexing the Fairgrounds

Again, it has to be emphasized that annexation wouldn't change ownership. The fairgrounds would still be owned by Tulsa County and run by the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority (TCPFA, aka the fair board), which consists of the three county commissioners and two other members.... Annexation wouldn't affect the fair board's ability to enter into long-term, non-competitive sweetheart contracts.

But annexation would eliminate the anomalies in law enforcement and tax rates. The fairgrounds and the surrounding land would be subject to the same zoning ordinances and zoning process. The same sales tax rate would apply to businesses on and off the fairgrounds. The same hotel/motel tax rate would apply to the fairgrounds motel and to nearby motels. The same noise ordinances would apply on and off the fairgrounds.

When the fair board considers a lease, they'd have to consider whether the proposed activity complies with city ordinances. I'm sure existing uses would be grandfathered in, but any zoning relief needed for whatever replaces Bell's would have to pass muster with the City of Tulsa's Board of Adjustment (which applies the law as it is; one of Bill LaFortune's positive legacies) or the Tulsa City Council. Currently, anything the fair board (made up mostly of the county commissioners) wants to allow only needs approval by the County Board of Adjustment (appointed by the county commissioners) or the county commissioners themselves. There's no independent check on fairgrounds development.

UTW, March 7, 2007: Annexation Fixation

Typically, unincorporated areas are places with very little development and much open space. When your nearest neighbor lives a quarter-mile away, what he does on his property isn't likely to affect your enjoyment of your property. In such a sparsely settled area, you don't need many rules to maintain peace, safety, and quality of life.

But in a densely developed area, those rules are essential. As Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." I spent several years of my childhood in a subdivision in an unincorporated area, and I can attest to the problems created by noise, dogs allowed to run free, lots allowed to grow wild.

To maintain quality of life where homes and businesses are packed closely together, the city regulates land use, noise, lighting, and other potential sources of annoyance that may spill over onto a neighbor's property.

But here in the heart of our city is a huge chunk of land that isn't subject to any of those rules, and without those rules in place, the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority has not been a considerate neighbor....

The TCPFA has allowed outdoor auto racing (in violation of a 1984 promise) and the annual Chili Bowl indoor races, both of which create noise in excess of city standards. During the 2004 Chili Bowl race, even with the Expo Building's doors closed, noise was measured at 85 dB nearly a half-mile away. You can imagine the impact on homes right across the street.

If Expo Square were within the city limits, the TCPFA would have to provide better noise insulation for the building or require Chili Bowl participants to muffle their cars. Given the economic impact of the Chili Bowl, I'm sure that the city would make reasonable accommodation on that issue, as well as on the issue of city building permits (another concern cited by annexation opponents). What matters is that the city would be in the loop, not helplessly enduring whatever nuisances the county chooses to harbor at the Fairgrounds.

The Chili Bowl continues to thrive and grow, by the way, notwithstanding the jurisdiction of the City of Tulsa.

Many thanks to KJRH Channel 2 (Cox Cable 9) for a well-balanced story on Vision2 today. I spent a couple of hours with Citizens for a Better Vision, the organized opposition group to Vision2, out on 51st Street where people could pick-up signs, buttons, and bumper stickers.

While I was there a KJRH cameraman came out to get some video for a news story that ran this evening, and he talked to me for a few minutes, part of a story on the efforts of the "vote yes" and "vote no" campaigns. The result was a well-balanced and accurate story, and I commend the KJRH news team for their good work: "Vision2 vote nears, both sides step up campaign efforts." I thought they did a good job of picking out quotes that represented the two campaigns.

Michael Bates is a blogger and a staunch opponent of the tax plan.

"It doesn't make sense for us to commit money that we don't begin collecting for four years and to spend almost $100 million just on interest to carry debt for 17 years," said Bates, who believes much of Vision2 amounts to corporate welfare.

Bates said he believes Vision2 was put on the ballot too quickly.

"The Vision2 plan is too rushed, too soon, and too sloppy the way it was put together," said Bates....

For his part, Bates believes it would be a better idea for cities to pass a six-tenth sales tax to replace the current Vision 2025 tax when it expires. He said the cities would be able to spend the money on whatever projects they think are necessary, without a say from the county.

"The city of Tulsa, for example, would raise $150 million more than we get from the Vision2 program," said Bates.

I made it clear that I wasn't speaking for all opponents of Vision2, and notice that KJRH was careful to qualify that statement with "For his part." They did a good job of summarizing my alternative proposal.


According to county employee Michael Willis, however, no one in the opposition has submitted anything better than his bosses' scheme.

"They've not participated in public input meetings. You have two different kinds of people in that campaign --people who are promoting themselves for individual public office and the people who are always on the 'no' side of just about every issue," said Willis.

Several opponents did go to public input meetings. I spoke at the meeting where the Tulsa City Council voted on how Tulsa's tiny cut of the funds would be allocated. But it's true that opponents did not line up demanding money for our pet causes. We wanted more than a slight rearrangement of the distribution of the $750 million. We disagree with fundamental aspects of the Vision2 county tax scheme that were set in stone before the public meetings were held.

Perhaps, from Willis's perspective, my proposal isn't worth considering because it doesn't include corporate welfare for a bankrupt airline that may well not exist by the time we begin paying back the money we borrowed to bail them out. Maybe he dislikes my plan's lack of an uncapped corporate welfare fund under the guidance of the same folks who gave us Great Plains Airlines. Maybe it's no good because it doesn't let the county's favored bond underwriters, bond attorneys, and program management contractors "wet their beaks." Maybe my idea is lousy because it cuts his bosses, the county commissioners, out of the decision-making process.

The vitriol from the "Vote Yes" side is disappointing, particularly coming from a Republican. You'd hope a Republican would see the inefficiency in passing tax dollars destined to be used by city governments through county government. You'd hope a Republican would have qualms about incurring debt that we'll still be paying off when my 6-year-old son is working on his doctorate.

And of course, Willis is wrong to believe that only opponents of past tax plans are opposed to Vision2. Many supporters of Vision 2025 and the River Tax are among the most vocal opponents of Vision2. For example, see recent Urban Tulsa Weekly columns by Ray Pearcey and Bill Leighty, and the statements of opposition from TulsaNow and former Tulsa Councilor Bill Christiansen, who served on the committee that put together the Vision 2025 package.

Here's a direct link to a one-page PDF that explains my alternative to Vision2 and why it's a better vision for Tulsa. (It's a better vision for Broken Arrow and other cities and towns, too.)

MORE: Tulsa County GOP chairman J. B. Alexander called my attention to this story about the Poway, California, school district which is borrowing $105 million for a total cost of $1 billion, because they don't begin paying on principal or interest for 20 years and won't finish paying it back for 40 years.

The bonds are a "kick the can" move to avoid dinging taxpayers now with higher property taxes.

Oh, and the bonds are not callable -- they can't be paid off early or refinanced.

School administrators appear to have looked around at the sluggish economy and property tax revenues and figured, 'Heck, why not defer now and pay nothing at all for decades? We'll be dead by then.'"...

The underwriters for the nearly $1 billion Poway bond deal, Stone & Youngberg, a unit of Stifel Nicolaus, and financial advisor Dolinka Group of Irvine, Calif., will get a sweet $1.4 million in total fees, says FOX News analyst James Farrell.

Citigroup (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), Bank of America/Merrill Lynch (BAC), among others, will split a cool $2.1 million on San Diego's $164 million bond where taxpayers will eventually pay a billion dollars, Farrell notes. ...

In two decades' time, taxpayers in the Poway district will have to start paying about $50 million a year towards the loan -- one-fifth of its current $250 million budget. However, right now, the district only receives about $11 million a year from homeowners towards paying off its bonds.
One estimate says the total assessed value of property within the taxed area would have to quadruple just to cover the eventual $1 billion bill for this one bond alone.

Interesting story from Reuters earlier this week: The IRS has filed an objection to the bankruptcy plan of Solyndra, the failed solar panel manufacturer that had been backed by Federal loan guarantees and the investment arm of the George Kaiser Family Foundation:

Solyndra's bankruptcy plan could prove a further embarrassment to the administration if it is seen rewarding risk-driven venture capitalists ahead of unsecured creditors such as suppliers and laid-off staff.

In its court filing on Wednesday, the IRS opposed Solyndra's plan. If approved by creditors, a holding company would emerge from bankruptcy with no employees or business operations - but as much as $350 million in tax breaks that could be used by Solyndra's investors, including Argonaut Ventures.

Argonaut is the investment arm of a foundation tied to the Democratic fundraiser, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser. Most of the tax breaks would come in the form of Net Operating Losses (NOLs) which could be used to offset future taxable income.

Meanwhile, under the bankruptcy plan Solyndra's creditors would receive pennies on the dollar, the IRS said, adding that the principal purpose of the plan is "tax avoidance."...

The IRS cited emails from Kaiser to one of the venture firm's managing directors.

"I would go a long way to preserve the NOLs," Kaiser wrote in December 2010.

As Argonaut, Solyndra and its tax professionals worked to determine the amount of tax breaks available to Solyndra, the company's chief financial officer was advised to delay a particular transaction which would have reduced the available NOLs by $100 million, the court filing said.

Thumbnail image for IVoted.jpgToday, October 12, 2012, is the last day for Oklahoma residents to register to vote for the November 6, 2012, election. You can download a voter registration application and print it, but you have to sign it (swearing an oath that you are eligible to vote -- in general, 18 years old, a U. S. Citizen, and a resident of Oklahoma, not a felon, not incapacitated) and submit it to the election board for processing and approval.

The Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver Ave., will be open until midnight tonight to register voters. Other counties may also have extended hours; here's a list of county election board locations and phone numbers and county election board email addresses.

I'm really not trying to encroach on Tasha Does Tulsa's territory -- she has the definitive guide to Tulsa area pumpkin patches, by the way -- but there are so many interesting things to do in and around Tulsa this week that I decided to put a bunch of events into one big entry.

artur_davis_ocpa.jpgOn Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs will hold its annual Liberty Gala at the Downtown Doubletree Hotel. Featured speakers are former Congressman Artur Davis and political analyst and author John Fund.

Also on Wednesday, from 6:15 to 8:00 pm at the Schusterman-Benson Library, 3333 E. 32nd Place, the League of Women Voters will conduct a Senate District 39 forum between the incumbent, Senator Brian Crain, and the challenger, neighborhood leader Julie Hall.

Also on Wednesday, and only on Wednesday, October 10, 2012, Cinemark Tulsa, 10802 E 71st St, will show Gone with the Wind, at 2 pm and 7 pm. It's part of a series of landmark films -- next Wednesday they'll show Mary Poppins.

Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave. in downtown Tulsa, is hosting Gloriae Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God). Tonight, Tuesday, October 9, 2012, they will present a workshop on Gregorian chant at 7:30 pm, followed by a sung service of Compline (prayers at the close of day) at 9:00 pm in Trinity's beautiful Gothic Revival sanctuary. Both events are free and open to the public.

Then on Thursday, October 11, 2012, at 7:30 pm at Trinity, the Gloriae Dei Cantores will present the annual Thomas Matthews Memorial Concert. Matthews was the long-time organist and choirmaster of Trinity and a renowned composer of choral anthems. The concert will be followed by a gala reception. The event is free and childcare will be available.

The Tulsa Hackathon begins Friday night, October 12, 2012, at 6 pm and runs all night long and all day Saturday until 9 pm, at the Tulsa Fab Lab, 710 S. Lewis Ave. App developers will gather for a 24-hour marathon design and coding session, fueled by pizza and beer, to develop new apps for Tulsa's benefit.

Thumbnail image for Johnnie-Lee-Wills-Rompin'-FrontUG.jpgSaturday night, October 13, 2012, 7 pm to 9 pm, music historian John Wooley will present his weekly western swing broadcast on Public Radio 89.5 KWGS, "Swing on This," live from Cain's Ballroom, with a dance in honor of bandleader Johnnie Lee Wills' 100th birthday. The Tulsa Playboys will be joined by Cowbop, a California western swing band. It's a benefit for KWGS, and reserved table seats are $40, available at Cain's box office, Ida Red, Reasor's, and Starship, or by calling 866-977-6849.


While it seems that nearly everyone who is paying attention right now is against Vision2, that won't be enough to win on November 6. Far more people who aren't paying attention right now will show up to vote for President on November 6 and may decide on the spot how to vote on Vision2. The "vote yes" side's hope is to use their million bucks to fill mailboxes and airwaves with misleading advertising, so that voters who aren't paying attention until election day will assume everyone supports it, that no one seriously objects to it, and that they should vote for it, too. (This strategy backfired the last time it was tried, in November 2000.)

That's why it's important to have a visible, organized opposition, and why it's important for you to stand up and be counted. A visible opposition stimulates skepticism and breaks up the bandwagon effect. It plants doubts in the minds of supporters and reassures people inclined to oppose Vision2 that their instincts are right. It keeps the undecided from simply following the herd.

Now that an formal opposition group, Citizens for a Better Vision, has been formed, there are some things you can do to help stop Vision2.

Show up at the campaign kickoff tomorrow, Monday, October 8, 2012, at 12:30 p.m. at Tulsa City Hall. This is an opportunity for "earned media," and it's important to have the diversity and strength of the opposition on display for the viewing public.

Display a yard sign. Your neighbors may only be seeing the puff pieces on local TV or in the paper. The Stop Vision2 sign in your yard communicates that someone they respect, someone they know and like who pays attention to politics, thinks this is a bad deal. Send your address to citizensforabettervision@gmail.com and a yard sign will be delivered to your home.

Display a virtual yard sign. Let your online friends know where you stand. "Like" Stop Vision2 on Facebook. Follow @SayNoToVision2 and @StopVision2 on Twitter, retweet them and encourage your followers to follow them. Download the above yard sign image and upload it to your Facebook profile -- maybe use it as your profile image or Twitter avatar.

Give money. Any time the many are being taxed for the direct benefit of the few, the vote yes campaign will always have far more money at its disposal. But the opposition can still prevail, even with a 50-to-1 financial disadvantage. Nevertheless, some money is needed to pay for yard signs and bumper stickers and to run radio spots. You can give to the campaign securely online through the widget to the right. If you'd rather mail in a contribution, make it out to Citizens for a Better Vision and mail it to:

Citizens for a Better Vision
3909 W Roanoke St
Broken Arrow, OK 74011

Host an opposition speaker. If your neighborhood association or civic group has a meeting between now at November 6, arrange with the group's leadership to have a speaker present the case against Vision2. If your group has already hosted or is scheduled to host a VIsion2 supporter, use that as leverage to insist on equal time.

Encourage your elected officials to take a public stand in opposition. For reasons stated above, they may be nervous about opposing anything for fear of retribution. But an elected official has credibility with the public that a private citizen lacks. When Councilor Blake Ewing and former Councilor Bill Christiansen say they oppose Vision2, voters take notice.

I hear that there are many Tulsa elected officials, business leaders, and non-profit directors who believe Vision2 will fail at the polls on November 6, who believe it should fail, but who do not want to do anything to help it fail.

They want it to fail because they realize that in Vision2, the county is shortchanging their cities' most critical needs, because they realize that Vision2 is not a strategic vision at all, just a mishmash of pork barrel projects and corporate welfare, all just so the Tulsa Metro Chamber can have a $52 million pot of money to play with and Tulsa County commissioners can have ongoing control of a 3/4-billion-dollar revenue stream. They think it will fail because their constituents oppose it and the only voices in support are those already on the payroll or hoping for a piece of the pie.

But these "leaders" remain silent. They Vision2 to lose, but they don't want their fingerprints on its defeat. Someday they will be looking for support for their pet project or cause, and they don't want to be turned down out of spite for their opposition to Vision2. So they'd rather not lead; instead, they hope the voters will do the hard work of stopping this plan.

Do your best to persuade them to speak out. Point out those officials who have already taken the political risk to voice their opposition. Let them know that your estimate of their political courage will depend upon their willingness to take a public stand.

"I think the worst thing you could do is promise you are going to build something and then not have enough money to build it." -- then Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick, July 2003

I had been looking at these items in isolation, but I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge. There are several instances with Vision 2025 and with Four to Fix the County Part 2 where the county allocated a small amount of money -- not enough to complete the project, but enough to use the project as a selling point to pass the tax. They're doing the same thing in Vision2. It's bait-and-switch.

American Indian Cultural Center: Vision 2025 included $2 million for this project, which was to be built north of 71st Street along the west bank of the Arkansas River. But according to this 2007 story in Indian Country News, a non-profit group called the National Indian Monument and Institute (NIMI) would have to raise $22 million in private funds to qualify for $2 million in county funds for infrastructure. A further $35 million would be needed for the final phase. It hasn't happened, and it looks like it never will. IRS Form 990 filings for NIMI show only $1,209,279 raised from 2004 to 2010, most of that between 2004 and 2007. NIMI is headed by Monetta Trepp, a Perryman family descendant who owns the Perryman Ranch south of Bixby. Their major annual project seems to be the Tulsa Indian Art Festival, which is listed as DBA on NIMI's 990 forms.

The Vision 2025 county contribution was about 8% of the cost of the first phase, not enough to bootstrap the project toward completion. Had the Tulsa County allocated enough funds to build the facility, they would have had to eliminate or shortchange other vote-getting projects. (The Vision 2025 surplus allocated to complete the BOK Center in high style would have been enough to build the Phase 1 of the AICC and make a good start on Phase 2.)

Tulsa County juvenile justice facility: As documented on BatesLine last week, 4 to Fix the County II included $2,446,625 that was sold to the voters as sufficient to renovate the existing juvenile justice facility and build a four-story addition. But instead of carrying out the promised work, the money was repurposed (six years after the tax was approved by the voters) to buy land on which a more expensive facility would be built. The new facility, with a price tag of $38 million, is on Tulsa County's Vision2 wish list.

Arkansas River low-water dams: Vision 2025 was sold to the public as putting water in the river, with promises that federal money would provide the rest of what was needed to build two new dams and fix the Zink Dam. That never happened. Instead the 2007 Tulsa County river tax was proposed to pay for the dams, and it was claimed (falsely) that Vision 2025 was only intended as seed money. Here's the actual language in the Vision 2025 Proposition 4 ballot resolution:

Construct two low water dams on Arkansas River the locations of which will be determined in the Arkansas River Corridor Plan -- $5.6 million

Zink Lake Shoreline Beautification -- $1.8 million

Design and construct Zink Lake Upstream Catch Basin and silt removal -- $2.1 million

Not planning funds, not engineering funds, not seed money -- "construct two low water dams."

This blog entry from 2007 has a timeline of claims made by Tulsa County officials about the dams and the proposal to use surplus Vision 2025 receipts to complete the dams if other funds are unavailable. My July 25, 2007, UTW column specifically rebuts claims made by county officials that the dams were never promised in Vision 2025. As with the other projects mentioned above, surplus Vision 2025 surplus funds likely would have been sufficient to complete this project, but we used $45.5 million of the surplus to pay for a fancier arena, which committed a similar amount for unspecified suburban projects so the 'burbs would go along with extra money for the arena. (Tulsa County Commissioner John Smaligo acknowledged that these commitments had been made in a May 2012 interview with KFAQ's Pat Campbell.)

This pattern continues with the Vision2 plan. The City of Tulsa's allocation includes $5 million toward the completion of the western legof the Gilcrease Expressway and its crossing of the Arkansas River, a project that the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority estimated would cost $857 million to build. The feasibility study itself cost just shy of $1 million. But putting a token amount toward the project allows the Vote Yes people to claim the Gilcrease Expressway on the list of projects and to claim the endorsements and votes of the expressway plan's biggest fans. Although the amount is a drop in the bucket of what will be required to build the project, it seems to have been enough to win Councilor Jack Henderson's support for Vision2.

The only way to break the county of the bait-and-switch habit is to tell them no.

MORE: A post on Yes to Vision2's Facebook page links a video about KRMG's Great Raft Race, a popular Labor Day weekend event in the '70s and '80s, using it to suggest that Vision2 would make such events possible again. ("I think we can all agree that making some river improvements would help support recreation events!") I replied with a comment that the construction of Zink Dam was the beginning of the end of the Great Raft Race. You need flowing water, not dammed-up water, to have a raft race. The offloading point had been on the east side of the river, just south of the pedestrian bridge, an area now below the dam. The race adjusted after the dam was completed, but it never worked as well after the dam was built, and within a few years they stopped entirely.

Bill_Christiansen_Tulsa.jpgIn a Thursday press release, former Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen, the only announced candidate for next year's mayoral election, announced his opposition to the Vision2 Tulsa County sales tax scheme on the November 6, 2012, ballot.

In his statement, Christiansen, who served on the Dialog/Visioning Task Force Steering Committee that assembled the Vision 2025 plan in 2003, contrasts the lengthy process that led to Vision 2025's list of projects to the hastily and haphazardly assembled Vision2 grab-bag.

Christiansen rightly characterizes the public meetings on Vision2: "The five Vision2 meetings consisted of people who wanted money for their project or people who were against the proposals all together." He calls for a focus on meeting our essential needs first and then talking about how to prioritize the "nice to have" items.

Christiansen's statement in full:

The citizens of Tulsa have before them a new $748.8 million Vision2 Plan that contains two propositions for the voters to consider on November 6th. The Vision2 Plan has an "Economic Development" portion and a "Quality of Life" portion, with each part approximately the same size. The sponsors of the proposal have had an input period of roughly two months to hear one-way public comment on the "Quality of Life" issues only.

I attended all the public Vision2 meetings and was amazed to see the process moving forward so quickly, especially considering the staggering financial size of the issues and the far reaching ramifications of the projects themselves. As a member of the Vision 2025 leadership team, we spent over a year taking public input and having public discussion with complete transparency and openness of what that vision entailed. On election day, all citizens of Tulsa County knew exactly what they were voting for. Vision2 is considerably larger and is being pushed through the process without open discussion and one-on-one dialog with their elected officials. The five Vision2 meetings consisted of people who wanted money for their project or people who were against the proposals all together. Many of the projects are worthy, but when you get into the details, many are things that would be nice to have rather than the essential needs of our citizens.

I am not against exploring the needs of the city. I am not against these proposed projects. I am for focusing on our immediate needs. Once those needs are met, let's prioritize our "wants". We need to focus on repairing and widening our streets and making certain public safety is funded properly so all Tulsans can feel safe in their city.

This process deserves the same level of analysis we did with Vision 2025. There is no need to rush these Vision2 projects. I believe we need to hold on this Vision2 proposal and believe we can accomplish a better vision for our future.

We have the time to do it right, we won't have the chance to do it over.

Weird Al Yankovic lived in the Bob Wills District before it was cool. His character in a movie did, at any rate.

A two-story building at 114 S. Archer provided the interior and exterior shots of the apartment and adjoining karate studio shown near the beginning of the movie. Tonight (Thursday, October 4, 2012), just three blocks away at Guthrie Green, between Brady and Cameron Streets, Boston and Cincinnati Avenues, you'll be able to see Weird Al's 1989 feature film, "UHF," filmed entirely here in Tulsa with a mix of established stars and character actors (Kevin McCarthy, Billy Barty, Victoria Jackson), then-emerging talents (Michael Richards and Fran Drescher), and hundreds of local extras.

It's an outdoor movie night, free admission, part of a series of movies with Tulsa connections sponsored by Circle Cinema. The movie will begin at dusk.

Next week (2012/10/11) they're showing Mad Dogs and Englishmen, a rockumentary about Joe Cocker's 1971 American tour, which featured many of the musicians that made the Tulsa Sound. Week after next (2012/10/18) it's Eye of God, written and directed by Tulsa's Tim Blake Nelson and filmed around Tulsa and Collinsville. There's an online poll to pick the pre-Halloween horror movie for October 25 -- the choices are Return of the Living Dead, Splinter, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

I've been meaning to write something about Guthrie Green since attending the Sunday night symphony concert on the park's opening weekend last month. The George Kaiser Family Foundation has turned a truck transfer facility into an inviting public space that seems to work well whether it's used for formal events or casual enjoyment. We brought our lawn chairs, enjoyed the Tulsa Youth Symphony (our oldest's first performance with the group), then during the long break, noshed on kettle corn and hot dogs from vendors parked along the Cincinnati side, wandered around and found friends.

Then as the sun went down and the stars came out, we listened to the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra put on a concert of Americana and pops, under the direction of Ron Spiegelman, starting appropriately with the Star-Spangled Banner, featuring a medley from Oklahoma!, a tribute to the armed services, Copeland's Rodeo ("Beef -- it's what's for dinner."), Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, winding up with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and fireworks. It reminded me of the Boston Pops 4th of July concerts on the Esplanade, but with the Tulsa skyline instead of the MIT campus as a backdrop.

Public spaces are tricky to get right, and Tulsa has plenty of local examples of failed parks and plazas -- nice ideas, well furnished, but they don't draw people in large numbers and often become havens for nefarious activity. There's a national organization devoted to distilling what makes a public space work.

Years ago, I enthused about New York's Bryant Park, a formerly failed space that had been turned around. While I suggested establishing something like it on the river, I see many of Bryant Park's appealing elements in Guthrie Green. I like the way they took an obstacle -- the massive loading dock along Cameron Street -- and turned it into an asset -- a place for restrooms and a small cafe, and steps overlooking the lawn.

The park didn't wind up with the name I wanted -- Bob Wills and his brother Johnnie Lee Wills have a far stronger connection to Tulsa than Okemah expat Woody Guthrie.-- but I'm very happy with what GKFF has created in Guthrie Green, and I encourage you to see it for yourself.

20120127-Coburn-Levin-PSIhearing.jpgA Senate subcommittee staff report just released says that state and local fusion centers, backed by "somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion" in federal funds, "have been unable to meaningfully contribute to federal counterterrorism efforts" and that the U. S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "does not adequately oversee its financial support for fusion centers." Many centers, the report states, "didn't consider counterterrorism an explicit part of their mission, and federal officials said some were simply not concerned with doing counterterrorism work."

The report is the result of a two-year-long bipartisan probe into federally-funded fusion centers instigated by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, prepared jointly by the majority and minority staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The report will be released Wednesday morning, October 3, 2012, on the subcommittee's website.

The investigation looked at "more than a year's worth of intelligence reporting from centers, conducting a nationwide survey of fusion centers, and examining thousands of pages of financial records and grant documentation." Despite combing through 13 months of fusion center reporting, the "Subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.

The report cites money wasted on SUVs, televisions, and surveillance equipment unnecessary to the mission, non-existent fusion centers that nonetheless are funded by DHS, and worthless "intelligence reports" that waste the time of DHS counterterrorism analysts, including some that, contrary to law, reported on U. S. citizens lawfully exercising their 1st Amendment rights.

Worse yet, "senior DHS officials were aware of the problems... but did not always inform Congress of the issues, nor ensure the problems were fixed in a timely manner." DHS conducted two assessments of fusion centers, in 2010 and 2011, finding "widespread deficiencies" and "ongoing weaknesses." When the Senate subcommittee requested a copy of the 2010 assessment, "DHS at first denied it existed, then disputed whether it could be shared with Congress, before ultimately providing a copy."

Fusion centers are funded by DHS through Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant programs and provides support services through its State and Local Program Office (DLPO). While fusion centers may be useful for state, local, and tribal governments to pursue traditional criminal investigations, the purpose behind federal support for fusion centers was because of their potential value in supporting DHS's counterterrorism efforts, by spotting threat information to be shared with and analyzed by DHS.

MORE: G. W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting has been covering stories of wasteful Homeland Security spending for years. Schulz and fellow CIR reporter Andrew Becker have an analysis of the Senate report on fusion centers.

The nation's vast network of anti-terrorism "fusion centers" for law enforcement have produced shoddy, untimely and often useless intelligence reports that have done little to keep the U.S. safer, a scathing U.S. Senate report concludes.

The 141-page report, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, identified problems with nearly every significant aspect of the Department of Homeland Security's more than 70 fusion centers, which were designed for law enforcement to coordinate their intelligence gathering.

The report marks one of the most blistering indictments to date of the Department of Homeland Security's domestic intelligence operation. The department, investigators conclude, "has not attempted to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the value federal taxpayers have received for that investment."

(Tulsa readers will no doubt recall the very thorough features and investigative stories that Schulz produced for Urban Tulsa Weekly as the paper's city reporter about seven years ago.)

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