Arkansas River: September 2007 Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cindy went on to report some classic Randi Miller moments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And commenter Ryan responded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm sorry, but that is plain idiotic.

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Shaw is pondering the magic formula:

Underestimated costs + Overestimated benefits = Project approval

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was looking through the archives of the daily paper for stories about The Channels and about the long process of public scrutiny required for that plan for the Arkansas River before it could be put to a public vote. In the process, I came across some cost estimates for other river projects. (Emphasis added in all cases.)

The price of west bank land

From November 2, 2006:

The William K. Warren Medical Research Center has signed purchase options totaling $65 million to acquire the sites of the Westport on the River apartments and the Mid-Continent Concrete Co. for a proposed $788 million river development, it was revealed Wednesday....

The $28 million purchase option for the 23.7-acre apartment site includes only the land on the west bank. During a transfer of land for the apartments when Sen Jim Inhofe was Tulsa's mayor, the river abutting the site remained in the ownership of the city.

The Tulsa Stakeholders had to pay to get the confidentiality agreement lifted, but that amount, which was not disclosed, is not included in the purchase price, Ducato said.

The $37 million purchase option for the concrete plant site covers 26.7 acres of land on the west bank plus acreage to the middle of the river.

The cost of bridges and dams

From Janet Pearson's column on October 8, 2006:

Other observers note that the amount eyed by Tulsa Stakeholders would pay for most of the major improvements called for in the master plan, including: several new low-water dams at about $22 million apiece; several new pedestrian bridges, about $3.4 million each; a Gilcrease Expressway bridge, $27 million; a 41st Street [vehicular] bridge, $13 million; a Yale Avenue bridge, $33 million; a 193rd East Avenue bridge, $20 million; a new Riverside Drive West from 71st Street to the 11th Street bridge, $29.3 million; and improvements to the existing Riverside Drive from 21st Street to Interstate 44, $11.6 million.

Not to depend too heavily on a Tulsa Whirled editorial writer, but I'd bet someone, maybe at INCOG, supplied Pearson with those numbers.

Let's compare these estimates from a year ago to what we're being told about the cost of projects in the October 9th river tax. (The number for the low-water dams includes Vision 2025 dollars. The number for acquiring the concrete plant is from news stories; there's nothing in the official ballot resolution that allocates money specifically for land acquisition on the west bank at 21st or anywhere else in Tulsa.)

Project Fall 2006 estimate River Sales Tax estimate*
Low water dam (each) $ 22,000,000
$ 27,500,000
Pedestrian bridge (each) $ 3,400,000 $ 15,000,000
Concrete plant acquisition
$ 37,000,000
$ 52,000,000
Cost of two low-water dams,
two pedestrian bridges,
and concrete plant
$ 87,800,000
$ 127,000,000

The most striking thing is the difference in the cost of the pedestrian bridges: $3.4 million each last year vs. $15 million this year. What accounts for that dramatic a difference? Inflation doesn't come close to accounting for the huge jump in costs.

Notice that last year's estimate of the cost of a vehicular/pedestrian bridge at 41st Street -- $13 million -- is less than what they're telling us this year is the cost of a pedestrian-only bridge at that same location -- $15 million, even though the cost of materials, engineering, and construction ought to be far higher for a bridge designed to carry cars.

A reader points to some other information that indicates someone did a cost estimate for the dams. A version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 approved by the Senate back in May (H.R. 1495, Engrossed Amendment as Agreed to by Senate) contained the following language:


(a) Navigation Channel- The Secretary shall continue construction of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, Arkansas and Oklahoma, to operate and maintain the navigation channel to the authorized depth of the channel, in accordance with section 136 of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2004 (Public Law 108-137; 117 Stat. 1842).

(b) Mitigation-

(1) IN GENERAL- As mitigation for any incidental taking relating to the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, the Secretary shall determine the need for, and construct modifications in, the structures and operations of the Arkansas River in the area of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, including the construction of low water dams and islands to provide nesting and foraging habitat for the interior least tern, in accordance with the study entitled `Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan Planning Assistance to States'.

(2) COST SHARING- The non-Federal share of the cost of a project under this subsection shall be 35 percent.

(3) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this subsection $12,000,000.

Doing the math, $12,000,000 is about 65% of $18,500,000. That suggests a cost of about $9 million each for the low-water dams, or possibly less, depending on how much was figured in for non-dam projects.

The version that came out of conference committee (House Report 110-280) included more funds for the Arkansas River, but used different language to describe the project:


(a) In General- The Secretary is authorized to participate in the ecosystem restoration, recreation, and flood damage reduction components of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan dated October 2005. The Secretary shall coordinate with appropriate representatives in the vicinity of Tulsa, Oklahoma, including representatives of Tulsa County and surrounding communities and the Indian Nations Council of Governments.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated $50,000,000 to carry out this section.

The bottom line question is: What is the basis for estimate for each of the items in the October 9th ballot resolution? Recent comparable construction in other cities? Rough order of magnitude quotes from potential suppliers? Given the wide range of numbers, the tax proponents need to show their work, in detail.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is part 1 of a two-parter leading up to the October 9th river sales tax election. I listed four reasons for voting against the tax; the two I dealt with this week pertain to promises and plans.

The distinction between the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan (ARCMP) and the package on the October 9th ballot was a central theme in a presentation I made earlier this week.

On Monday night, at the kind invitation of Tulsa District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes, I spoke at a forum she convened at the Central Community Center on the topic of the October 9 river tax vote. Speaking in support of the tax were Jerry Lasker, executive director of the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), and Ken Levit, head of the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF).

At the insistence of Jean Letcher, the campaign manager for the pro-tax side, I went first with my 15 minute presentation. Also at her insistence, there was to be no opportunity for rebuttal during the Q&A period, because she didn't agree to a debate, only to an informational meeting.

In the event, moderator Ken Busby let the discussion flow freely. I think all of the panelists and the audience members who asked questions and offered comments all felt they had ample opportunity to make their points. I didn't take a count, but I imagine there were about 40 people in the room for the 90 minute meeting.

Here's what I said regarding plans:

What everyone calls the "INCOG plan" is officially known as the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan The ARCMP has been under development for the last four years, with a tremendous amount of public input from experts and laypeople alike, consultation with the Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority, and public hearings, culminating in the ARCMP's incorporation into the Comprehensive Plan by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa County Commission, and the Tulsa City Council. The ARCMP includes both near-term projects like low-water dams and long-term aspirations like a boulevard following the west bank. It's a wish list, but a well-defined wish list.

In order to be very precise about the plan under discussion, I'm going to refer to it by the initials of its official name -- ARCMP. The pro-tax campaign seems to be determined to mislead the voters into thinking that the hastily thrown-together package on the October 9th ballot is one and the same with the ARCMP that has been four years in the making.

Of the projects that are defined in the ballot resolution for the October 9th Tulsa County sales tax election, only $64.85 million is being spent on projects in the ARCMP. At least $135 million is being spent on projects that are not in the ARCMP. Here's a breakdown:

In the ARCMP
Not in the ARCMP
Sand Springs Dam
$24.7 million
"Living River"
$90 million
Jenks Dam
$24.7 million
41st St Ped-Only Bridge
$15 million
Zink Dam improvements
$15.45 million
61st St Ped-Only Bridge
$15 million

"Downtown Connector"
$15 million
$64.85 million
$135 million

Another $57.4 million is designated for "Arkansas River corridor land acquisition, infrastructure, bridge improvements and site development, and Arkansas river studies for Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Jenks, Sand Springs and Bixby." Some of that might be spent on ARCMP projects; some of it might not. It depends

The remaining $25 million is a contingency allowance covering all projects.

Here's a table summarizing the differences between the ARCMP and the tax package regarding how they were developed and their legal status:

Arkansas River Corridor
Master Plan
Tulsa County Oct. 9th
sales tax package
Developed over four years
in full public view
Put together in about two months
(within public view)
Many opportunities
for public input
No public input before plan
was set in stone
Driven by the desires of
Tulsa County citizens
Driven by the concepts of
Canadian architect Bing Thom,
consultant to GKFF
Future plan for 41st St
car and pedestrian bridge
to link west Tulsa and midtown
41st St park and
pedestrian-only bridge concept
rules out 41st St car bridge
Approved by TMAPC, County Commission, Tulsa City Council Never reviewed by TMAPC or Tulsa City Council

You can hear the October 22, 2006, StudioTulsa interview with Bing Thom, which I mentioned in my column this week. In the interview, the Canadian architect mainly discusses "The Channels," his concept for a large dam at 21st Street and high rises on islands in the Arkansas River, a plan he developed for Tulsa Stakeholders, Inc., but he also discusses his other commission, for the George Kaiser Family Foundation. You'll hear references to the 41st and 61st St pedestrian-only bridges and to the "living river" concept, albeit not by that exact name. Thom also discusses the "gathering places" along the east bank, which in the current proposal would be funded by private contributions. (There's a transcript there, too, obviously done with an automated speech-to-text system, but it does make it easier to go to key points in the recording.) The items in the October 9th county sales tax package which are not in the ARCMP seem very strongly to have come from Thom's drawing board.

Speaking of "The Channels," do you remember how closely the plan was scrutinized, and how much time was spent on it? The concept made its debut a little over a year ago, in early September 2006. Over the next three months, there was considerable public comment.

Even though County Commissioner Randi Miller endorsed the plan and raising taxes to pay for it shortly after it was announced, she insisted that the ARCMP would have to be amended to incorporate The Channels before it could be funded with tax money. So why hasn't the same requirement been levied on the "Living River," the pedestrian-only bridges, and the downtown connector?

Because the ARCMP is a part of the Comprehensive Plan for the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County, amending the plan would require public hearings and approval by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the Tulsa City Council, and the County Commission.

Last fall, we heard about the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan advisory committee, which established a process for reviewing The Channels, a process that was described as "an expeditious yet rigid technical review" to be conducted in the course of about 10 weeks. In her October 8, 2006, opinion column, Janet Pearson says there are 50 members on this advisory committee.

Has this 50-member committee been convened to evaluate the package on this year's October 9th ballot?

Then there's this quote from PMg's Gaylon Pinc regarding the process of evaluating The Channels for inclusion in the Comprehensive Plan:

Pinc said the gist of the INCOG board's resolution "would be whether The Channels should be incorporated as a component of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan" and the city's comprehensive plan.

Should the resolution gain the approval of the Planning Commission, it would go before the City Council, and then on to the County Commission.

The County Commission had hoped to decide Dec. 11 on whether to call for a Feb. 13 election on the public funding issue.

In other words, in order to do everything according to Hoyle, this process would have had to have been completed prior to any vote by the County Commission to put a tax on the ballot.

That process wasn't followed with the Kaiser plan. Why not?

Here we go again. Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry in this morning's Whirled:

Q: How will additional costs be covered if the projected $282 million price tag for the public projects goes up?

A: As one of nine future "river trustees," if the Oct. 9th river plan/tax vote passes, I have been asked to answer this question. The short answer is that there won't be any additional costs to cover. For one thing, we're told that the engineers factored in some projected inflationary costs. Also, there is a contingency amount of $25 million in the plan. It is doubtful that costs would rise enough to consume that contingency.

Also, the commissioners, prior to passing the resolution, were committed to not exceeding the $282.25, which is in the resolution and on the ballot. There are also protections in the resolution regarding the limit.

In my opinion, and I think the other future trustees will agree, if the costs exceed the estimate and the contingency, something would be dropped off the plan or projects would be scaled down.

Let's compare that with what Perry's predecessor said a month or so before the Vision 2025 sales tax vote. Bob Dick, promised voters that every project would get built:

Dick said the Vision 2025 package also was designed to ensure no project gets left behind due to a lack of funding.

"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," Dick said.

Vision proponents concede room for error is built into some project cost estimates.

"I don't know specifically what it is really going to cost to build a low-water dam," Dick said.

It looks to me like this plan is set up, just like the low-water dams in promised Vision 2025, to overpromise and underdeliver.

We've been told that the rule of thumb these days is that a county-wide one cent sales tax will raise $100 million per year. A 0.4 cent tax over seven years would raise $40 million x 7 = $280 million -- not quite enough to cover the $282.25 million in total estimated project costs, and no provision whatsoever for fees and interest costs for debt.

I get about the same number -- $280.6 million -- if I take actual county receipts for FY 2007, adjust for the tax rate, assume a growth rate of 2.5%, and figure the numbers out over calendar years 2008 through 2014.

That's right: No provision for finance costs. Since they're telling us the need for pedestrian bridges and low-water dams is too urgent to pay for them on a pay-as-you-go basis, the Tulsa County Commission will once again hire a bond adviser and sell revenue bonds to get the money up front. That means we're borrowing against future sales tax revenues so we can spend the money right away. The designated amount for each project represents the amount of cash needed to build each piece and doesn't include the project's share of fees and interest.

This is why projected sales tax receipts of about $750 million over the life of the Vision 2025 sales tax will be barely enough to pay for $580.5 million worth of projects. According to county financial adviser John Piercey's numbers, combined with PMg's Vision 2025 project report, that $580.5 million will have cost us $674,387,714.81 in sales tax revenues. That's $93.9 million in finance costs.

In Vision 2025, finance costs were not included in the announced project amounts. This is apparent in the way the funds have been managed. If a project's cost was listed as, say, $1 million, the project's sponsor (city, town, university, or non-profit) has $1 million to spend on construction, with no deduction for the project's share of finance costs.

If somehow we got the same effective interest rate, the $25 million contingency amount would be entirely consumed by finance costs, leaving no margin for error should costs increase, and making it quite likely that a few years from now, county commissioners will be telling us once again, "Sorry, but if you want us to finish this project we promised, you'll have to vote for another tax increase."

Monday night, September 24, at 7 p.m., Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel will host a forum about the problems he sees with the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects. It's being held at the Hardesty Library, 8316 E. 93rd Street (on 93rd East of Memorial). State Sen. Randy Brogdon, Broken Arrow Mayor Wade McCaleb, and Tulsa City Councilors Roscoe Turner and John Eagleton will also be in attendance, and yard signs and flyers will be available.

Those are two questions about two major thrusts of the campaign for the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river-related projects. In this week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I ask whether this river tax plan is what we need to do for the sake of Tulsa's children and young adults.

In response to the first question, I deal in passing with one river tax cheerleader's active involvement in destroying a place of fun and happy memories for Tulsa's children, and pass along a suggestion, made by my wife, for how you could protest Bell's eviction from the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, should you decide not to boycott this year's Tulsa State Fair entirely:

In addition to the obvious -- don't spend money on the Murphy Brothers midway -- here's a homemade idea for those who go to the fair but wish to protest Bell's eviction: Wear bells to the fair. You can buy a big bag of jingles at a craft store for a few dollars. Thread a bunch on a ribbon to wear around your neck. Bring extras to give to friends or fellow fairgoers.

And if you want to make the point explicit, stick a nametag on your shirt with the slogan that's been spotted around town: "No Bell's. No fair."

Bells3-web.pngAccompanying that suggestion on page 7 of this week's UTW is the first published work by a budding young cartoonist named Joe Bates, depicting a weeping Bell. He's got some more political cartoons in the work. The demolition of Bell's is something my two older kids saw happening on an almost daily basis, and it saddened them both greatly. I'm proud to see my son express his sentiments so eloquently in art. He's already working on some more cartoons.

I mentioned in the column that skipping the fair entirely is hard for a lot of people from Tulsa and the northeastern Oklahoma. Going back to the '40s my great-grandmother and grandmother would enter the craft competitions, and in recent years my two older children have had fun submitting their own creations. Joe has won two blue ribbons, one in 2004 for an acrylic painting and one last year for a convertible built with Legos. Both he and his little sister plan to enter some items again this year. To us, and to a lot of families, the Tulsa State Fair was here before Randi Miller and Clark Brewster and Rick Bjorklund, and it'll be here when they've all moved on to other things. But I can certainly understand those who plan to abandon the fair altogether.

Regarding young professionals, in my column I mention a recent visit to Orlando and a Saturday evening spent on lively Orange Avenue, between Church Street and Washington Street in that city's downtown:

Downtown Orlando has shiny new skyscrapers, a basketball arena, and a beautiful 23-acre lake with a fountain. But I didn't find the crowds around any of those. There were only a few people walking the path around the lake, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.

Instead, the throng of twenty-somethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old one-, two-, and three-story commercial buildings. The storefronts of those buildings were in use as bars, cafes, and pizza joints. The same kind of development stretched for a block or two down each side street. There were hot dog stands on every corner. Pedicabs ferried people to and fro. The numbers of partiers only grew larger as the little hand swept past 12.

An observation from that visit that I didn't include in the column: The block of Orange between Pine and Church Streets has these old commercial buildings crowding the sidewalk on the west side and a spacious plaza framed by two modern, round, glass and steel buildings on the east side. Where do you suppose people chose to walk? 90% of the foot traffic stayed next to the old storefronts and avoided the big modern plaza.

I didn't hear any complaints until six days after I added an update to my entry about the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County and their decision to exclude opponents of the proposed Tulsa County sales tax increase for river projects from a luncheon at which that was the topic of discussion. That update was added the afternoon of September 7, following a phone call from County Commissioner Fred Perry, the person the head of the RWCTC had chosen to present the arguments for and against the tax. The update consisted of my summary of what Perry had told me about the rationale behind the format chosen by club president Nancy Rothman, followed by my reaction.

I was surprised that the one person who complained not only didn't agree that the RWCTC's decision to exclude the opposition was unfair but told me that my comments about that decision were "unfair and inappropriate." There were a few e-mails back and forth, and it became clear that we weren't going to see eye to eye on this.

The specific complaint was that my comparison of Nancy Rothman's decision to exclude the tax opponents for the sake of party harmony to the harmonious political discourse in the ruling party of North Korea was over the top. I meant to be over the top. In the words of Rush Limbaugh, I was trying to illustrate absurdity (promoting harmony by suppressing one side of the debate) by being absurd.

But I did wonder if perhaps I went too far. Nancy Rothman made a bad decision, but perhaps the decision was made from noble, if misguided, intentions.

Nancy Rothman sent out a press release today responding to what I wrote 13 days ago. Here it is in its entirety.

A Response to Michael Bates of
Press Release


On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Republican Women of Tulsa County (RWCTC) presented a program on the Proposed River Plan/Tax at its monthly luncheon.

The purpose of this meeting was neither to provide an exclusive forum for either side of this issue nor to conduct a debate, but to put forth as much information as possible on the plan itself, since few have had the opportunity to read the proposal in its entirety. The presentation on the corridor plan was provided by a professional engineer who was involved from the inception of the project.

As a club, we have remained neutral on the issue; we are aware that our membership is divided, even if the party has already stated its position. The group also wanted to address some of the issues that have been brought forth by both the proponents and the opponents of the issue. This program was merely meant to educate our membership and guests, not to sway anyone one way or the other.

The RWCTC asked Commissioner Fred Perry to make the presentation, since he had not come forward in support or opposition of the issue, and because we believe him to be an honorable man who would, in fact, present all of the information in an educational rather than an editorial format - as he was asked to do.

Again, the intent of this meeting was not to make an argument either for or against the proposal, but to provide our membership and guests with as much complete and unbiased information on the details of the plan and on the arguments - both for and against - as possible. It is my belief that we succeeded in that endeavor.

In his online personal commentary (blog), posted Sept. 5, Michael Bates stated, "...Regarding the RWCTC event, Perry told me that Ms. Rothman is a professional mediator who feels that the Republican Party is too divided and contentious, so she didn't want to have a debate. I would think that, as a mediator, she would understand the importance of each side feeling that their concerns were fully aired and given a fair hearing. Perhaps her mediation sessions consist of her picking one side to argue both sides of a dispute.

"To be fair to Ms. Rothman," he continued, "there are political parties that do a much better job than Republicans of maintaining unity and harmony. For example, the Workers' Party of Korea presents a united front on every issue. You never hear a dissenting voice on any issue; if you do, you never hear from it again. Perhaps she has the WPK in mind as a model of the Republican Party's future."

Unfortunately, this attack by Mr. Bates is a perfect example of a few within the party who employ bullying tactics in an attempt to shut down open dialogue and instill fear in those who don't agree with them. Sadly, this is only one example of this type of conduct that has been occurring within the Tulsa County Republican Party for the past several years.

Mr. Bates is correct in that I am a mediator. I believe that mediation is a proven process that is beneficial in many areas where there is dispute. Mediation is not, however, beneficial when one side uses bullying tactics to instill fear, attempting to beat people into submission if those people do not conform to the bully's whims. The real message he is sending is, "Conform to me and my way of doing things, or I'll demonize you and destroy your life."

If the purpose of this intimidation is to put a chilling effect on future speakers, it will not work. As for myself and the Republican Women of Tulsa County, we will not bow down to this type of threat, intimidation or harassment.

It is interesting to note that at no time did Mr. Bates ever attempt to contact me to inquire about the program, nor did he attend the program.

The spirit of intimidation within this party in Tulsa County is a seed that is tearing the party apart. Its aim is to pit people against each other, and to destroy anyone who advocates for open and honest communication and dialogue. It not only promotes infighting within the party but drives good people away and fosters a lack of respect within the community. How can anyone expect to lead and govern in this manner? Furthermore, how can a city expect to thrive and grow when high reader ratings (such as the example displayed here) are built up by tearing people down?

This response is not intended to cause further division. The Tulsa County Republican Party is made up of a diverse group of people and there will always be differences within the party. These differences, however, are not so deep that we cannot find common ground to work and move forward together in unity.

Nancy Rothman,
Tulsa County Republican Women's Club

I started to write a point-by-point reply, and I will probably do that at some point, but for now, I think I'll just let Nancy's comments stand without comment from me and instead open the floor for your comments.

UPDATE (9/22/2007): B. J. Benbow, a Republican woman who received Rothman's press release, sent a reply to Rothman, and copied me on it. Here's Benbow's specific response to Rothman's accusations:

After reading your account of Mr. Bates' article I agree with him. You do not claim that he was not factual and that you really did want a DEBATE. You simply attacked him (might I say bully).

As I mentioned in last week's Urban Tulsa Weekly, a few weeks ago I began my search for the source of the numbers being cited in defense of the need to raise taxes to build the two low-water dams and the Zink Lake modifications promised in Proposition No. 4 of the Vision 2025 sales tax.

The debate over this issue has two prongs:

(1) Did Tulsa County officials promise to build the dams during the Vision 2025 campaign? And did they promise that they'd have the money to build them even if Federal matching dollars weren't available? Despite word-parsing efforts by Commissioner Randi Miller and others, the clear answer to that question is yes, as I've demonstrated from the official ballot resolution, the official project map used during the campaign, and quotes from Commissioner Bob Dick and others during the campaign, and even after the campaign, when Federal funding was once again in doubt.

(2) Is there enough money in projected Vision 2025 revenues to cover the cost of the new dams and the Zink Lake modifications? County officials, citing numbers developed by John Piercey, the county's bond adviser, say that the answer is no. Based on revenue projections, remaining projects to be funded, and debt service, there isn't enough money, they say to fund the low water dams beyond the specific amounts listed in the resolution, much less fund any other project on this October's ballot.

That second point set me off on a search to find out for myself. I combed through the five big binders of monthly Vision 2025 reports in the fourth floor Government Documents department of the Central Library. (The most recent three binders are in the work room, so you need to ask at the reference desk if you want to see them.)

Having looked at the sales tax summaries and project summaries in the monthly reports, I had a simple mental model of how it all fit together. You had two pots of money: A pot of sales tax revenue and a pot of bond proceeds.

Sales tax receipts come into the sales tax revenue pot, and from that pot comes bond repayment (debt service: principal and interest) and cash expenditures (e.g., money to pay down the Oklahoma Aquarium debt, fees to PMg and attorneys).

The bond proceeds pot is fed by proceeds from revenue bond sales, and that money is spent on expenditures for most of the projects.

So what I wanted to know was this:

(1) How much money was in each pot as of, say, the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2007?

(2) How much money was likely to be added to the sales tax pot between now and the last sales tax check in February 2017? (There's about a month and a half delay between collection and the resulting check from the Oklahoma Tax Commission back to the cities and counties.)

(3) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is committed to debt service, and what is the repayment schedule?

(4) Of the money in the sales tax pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and for overall program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

(5) Of the money in the bond pot, how much is budgeted but yet to be spent for projects and program expenses, and what is the schedule for spending that money, and for which projects?

I figured that, with all the talk about how we wouldn't have enough money to build the promised dams, that somebody must have all this worked out, at least on a year by year basis. If you had the answers to those five questions, you could make decisions about borrowing against future revenues or the likelihood of additional money that could be spent on a pay-as-you-go basis or possibly even reprioritizing the sequence in which the remaining projects (including the dam and Zink Lake projects) would be funded.

I wrote about my quest a few weeks ago:

I asked Kirby Crowe by phone if he had a copy of this plan. I'm not sure if I made my meaning clear, but I came away from the conversation with the impression that he did not have a copy of Piercey's financial plan.

I called Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer, and asked if he had a copy of the financial plan. I thought he might, since his name is on the monthly memo in the Vision 2025 report listing tax receipts, the monthly wire transfer from the sales tax fund to the trustee, and the interest earnings on the sales tax trust account.

Smith said he didn't have the financial plan, but suggested I call John Piercey. Mr. Smith could tell me what the payment to the trustee would be for the next six months, at which point it would be recalculated, but couldn't tell me anything more about future expenses.

I called Capital West, and they gave me John Piercey's number. I called John, and he was very gracious. He said he'd e-mail it to me that evening or the following morning. He said something about recalculating based on more recent tax receipts. I'd really be happy seeing the most recent version, whatever he's been using as the basis for his statements about Vision 2025 surpluses.

That was a week ago Monday, the 20th. I gave him a reminder call on the 28th -- got his voicemail and left a message. Haven't heard back yet. I'm sure he's quite busy.

Can anyone suggest somewhere else I could find this information?

That was on August 30. Eight days later, on September 7, I left another message for Mr. Piercey. I also, on a whim, called County Commissioner Fred Perry's office to see if they have a copy of this rumored financial plan. The administrative assistant didn't know, but she took my message, and about an hour later, Commissioner Perry called me. (Part of that conversation found its way into the update to this entry about the Republican Women's Club's exclusion of the opposition from a discussion of the county river tax.)

Perry told me he would ask Piercey to get me the information, and not long after I heard from Piercey. The following Tuesday afternoon, September 11, he dropped the three-page Excel printout, entitled "Vision 2025 Financial Summary" by UTW's offices. (Clicking that link will open a PDF file, about 300 KB.)

Off and on over the following week, I crunched through Piercey's numbers covering the next nine and a half years and tried to fit them together with the numbers in the Vision 2025 reports covering the past three and a half years, trying to meld them together into a consistent set of answers to my questions.

Finally, I sent Piercey an e-mail, attaching a snapshot of the financial spreadsheet from the June 2007 Vision 2025 report:


Thanks again for providing me with that spreadsheet printout last Tuesday. I'm still looking at it and trying to understand how your numbers line up with the ones I observed in the Vision 2025 monthly reports from PMg.

The most puzzling thing is the gap between previous years debt service numbers and the numbers in your projections. Attached is a photo of the Vision 2025 sales tax report from PMg's June 2007 Vision 2025 report, which includes all receipts and expenditures through the end of FY07. It shows the following amounts transferred to the bond trustee:

Transferred to Bond Trustee

I take those numbers to represent what has been paid to debt service to date. So it's puzzling that for FY 2008 that the debt service jumps up to $46,977,024 plus $396,500 for Series 2006 B. Did the debt service payments just jump up at the end of FY 2007, or is something else on that PMg spreadsheet that should be included in debt service to date?

Put another way, what are your numbers for debt service through FY 2007?

(I'm also surprised that the debt service number doesn't tail off in 2017, since there are only eight months of revenue from the tax in FY 2017.)

Another apparent difference between PMg's numbers and yours: PMg shows, after May 2007, $45,362,099.18 in the sales tax trust fund, and in June all of it is transferred to a new cash projects trust account, in addition to about $2 million transferred to this cash projects trust account back in February. You show $39,093,695 as sales tax revenues held by County. I don't understand how those two numbers line up.

Another question has to do with when various expenses and funds might be realized. You show a balance to be funded of $104.5 million and about $69.3 million of cashflow from bond fund reserves ($39.4 million), net earnings on bond funds ($13.7 million), and net earnings on cash flow ($16.2 million). Has anyone mapped out, to the fiscal year, when these expenses and earnings will be realized?

Thanks again for your assistance,

Michael D. Bates

Here is Piercey's reply in full, clarifying the nature of his report and his role with Vision 2025 and Tulsa County:

Capital West Securities, Inc. official involvement with raising additional funds for Vision 2025 ended in the third quarter of 2006 with the completion of the funding of $31 million in parity and subordinate bonds which partially funded the $45.5 million approved by the County for the Arena and Convention Center. The balance of the funds for the projects increased budget will come from cash flow through the end of calendar year 2008.

My current involvement is as an unpaid monitor of the monthly sales tax receipts and the preparation of a semi annual update of the status of the financial condition of the program. The day to day management of the Program is performed by PMG and the funds administration is performed by the Bond Trustee in cooperation with Jim Smith, the County's fiscal officer. The summary that was given to you is the most current semi annual Update that I have done and is not a "financial plan".

The monthly PMG report provided to the elected officials and the Sales Tax Overview committee will differ from my evaluation simply because they are looking primarily at projects implementation and monthly cash flows provided to them by the Trustee and PMG. They will also differ as a result of the time frame that I used and the in and out of money that occurs weekly.

As I pointed out to John Eagleton in a prior correspondence, the debt service payments that are shown in the PMG reports are what the Trustee requires from sales tax receipts on a monthly basis. The difference between the receipts and the payment goes into sales tax trust fund. The sales tax trust fund is being used to fund Vision projects not funded by bond proceeds. It builds up over time as a results of primarily the City of Tulsa budget process which requires all funds to be in place and appropriated before project contracts can be signed.

The Trustee's debt service requirements given to the County differ from the debt service requirements on the bonds are a results of interest earnings on the construction funds held by the Trustee as well as interest earnings on the Bond Fund Reserve account of $39.09 million. Given the amount of proceeds raised early in the program those earnings were substantial in the early years of the program and decline as projects are completed. This will also be the case with the County's sales tax trust fund as the Arena and Convention Center is completed between now and the end of fiscal year 2008.

As for specific answers to your questions:

1. Debt service has risen annually since 2003 as a results of additional bond issues being done as projects became ready for implementation. Debt service has also risen as the amount of investment earnings have declined as moneys are spent.

2. The PMG debt service numbers are net of investment earnings.

3. All the bond issues, except series 2006B, are rated AAA. In order to get a AAA rating, a cash reserve of $39 plus million was funded early in the program and is held by the Trustee. The purpose of the reserve is have sufficient funds on hand to pay debt service in the event that sales tax receipts at any one time or length of time is insufficient to pay the debt service. The Reserve is released in the final year (2017) to pay most of the final year's debt service. This final payment assumes that no short fall has occurred.

4. The Series 2006 B bonds of $10 million are subordinate bonds and are unrated. The reason being that the requirements to issue more bonds on a parity basis could not be met. The $14.5 million in cash flow for the Arena and Convention Center was also the results of not being able to issue more debt without increasing the costs of the debt and the risk that other projects would have to be postponed or possibly eliminated if sales tax receipts declined.

5. The Vision 2025 program included $575 million in specific projects with specific dollar allocations. Of that total 83% were funded by bond proceeds or in the case the Aquarium annual payments were contracted for. The balance of approximately $100 million (excluding the rebate) are being funded by sales taxes and investment earnings remaining after debt service is paid monthly. With the exception of the River Projects which were matching funds, cash flow schedules have been reviewed and PMG schedules those projects as they become ready and/or funds are available.

6. As I have noted in the past, I see no excess funds being available for new projects or increases for approved projects until after 2012-13. I hope that my forecast is too low. The bulk of any future surplus will occur in 2017 as the $39.1 million in bond fund reserve is released.

John Piercey

There's a lot to digest here. I'm putting it all here for anyone who cares to analyze it and comment on it.

One of the discoveries in all this is that there are actually four pots of money. In addition to the bond proceeds and the sales tax receipts, there is a bond repayment trust fund held by the bond trustee (the Bank of Oklahoma). When Jim Smith tried to explain to me how it worked, I compared it to an escrow account for paying taxes and insurance on a mortgaged house, which Smith thought was a good analogy. The bond trustee then repays the bondholders from this trust fund. Every six months, the bond trustee recalculates the payments they need from Tulsa County's sales tax receipts to enable them to pay the bondholders.

Here's my paraphrase of Piercey's explanation of the difference between the payments to the bond trustee (found in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) and his schedule for repayment to the bondholders: The county began paying money into the bond fund as soon as the tax began to be collected, but well before they had to begin to repay the bonds. Those early funds earned interest, which reduced the amount the county had to pay to the bond trustee in order to keep the bond trustee's fund at the required level.

Without the details of the ins and outs of the fund being managed by the bond trustee, there doesn't seem to be any way to correlate the sales tax payments to the bond trustee (in the Vision 2025 monthly reports) with the payments to the bondholders (in Piercey's financial summary). The Vision 2025 monthly reports don't cover the balances and transactions in the bond repayment trust account or in the bond proceeds pot of money. (It just now occurs to me that those two pots may actually be a single pot of money.) There are individual monthly project expenditures in the report, which you can infer are payments from the bond proceeds, but it isn't explicit, and transactions like interest earnings are either not reported or perhaps just not obvious to me. It would be good to have a spreadsheet for the bond proceeds fund that spells things out as clearly as the sales tax spreadsheet does for that fund -- the balance at the beginning of each month, all the income and the outgo, and the balance at the end.

I mentioned that there's a fourth pot of money. The June 2007 Vision 2025 monthly report shows that in February, $2,093,676.40 was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account, and in June, $45,961,778.85 -- pretty much the entire sales tax reserve being held in the county's accounts -- was transferred to the Cash Projects Trust Account. A memo included in one of the monthly reports says that this account is also being managed by BOk.

I still don't see a way to answer my five questions from the information available. If I were a County Commissioner or a member of the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee, I would insist on putting that information together and updating it on a monthly basis to serve as Tulsa County's financial plan for the Vision 2025 program.

It looks to me that John Piercey, PMg, and BOk each possess different pieces of the puzzle, but that no one has actually put all of it together into a complete picture, a complete plan that would permit exploring different scenarios that would allow the use of Vision 2025 funds to complete the dams that were promised as a part of that package.

There's another aspect of this that needs to be explored, but it's late and I'm tired. I'll just point you in the general direction. On the front page of Piercey's summary are three columns: "Pre-Request," "Arena Increase," "Revised Totals." The difference between the first and third columns tell quite a story.

Tulsa Community College's Forensic Team will debate the Tulsa County river tax today at noon at the Northeast Campus, Apache and Harvard, in the Room 1470 auditorium. Here are the details in a press release I received:

What: Debate over River Development - Local and Global impacts
When: Wednesday, September 19
Where: NE Campus- Large Auditorium (1470) at 12:00p.m.- 1:00p.m.
Who: TCC Forensics, Global Education, and Student Activities
Who is invited: Anyone interested in the Arkansas River debate. Please join us!
Light snacks provided

Tonight at 6:30 at the OSU-Tulsa auditorium, TulsaNow will hold a forum on the October 9th election regarding the proposed Tulsa County sales tax for river projects. Both sides will be well represented: Jean Letcher, campaign manager for the vote yes campaign, and Gaylon Pinc of PMg will speak in support of the tax; City Councilor John Eagleton and Tulsa resident Colin Tawney will speak in opposition. The forum format will give each side an equal chance to speak (unlike many other "informational" river tax events which have excluded the opposition). Some questions will be provided to the two sides in advance of the event, others will be drawn at random from audience submissions.

This should be an interesting event. Eagleton and Tawney are both very knowledgeable and well-spoken, and should do a fine job of representing the reasons for opposing this tax increase. It's interesting, too, that you have two people with a professional/financial interest arguing for passing the tax and two people who with no financial stake in the game arguing against.

For work reasons, I can't be there, but I hope you will.

UPDATE: Steve Roemerman live-blogged the event (until his laptop battery ran out of juice). He advises that TulsaNow will post video and that David Schuttler was there gathering video as well. I was surprised to learn that Jean Letcher was replaced at the last minute by John Piercey, bond adviser to Tulsa County.

UPDATE (2): David Schuttler has a blog entry with photos and his synopsis of the forum. He has posted some of the video, broken up by question, on his YouTube account, with more to come.

Meeciteewurkor has a guest post from someone who attended a river tax informational forum today, sponsored by the Sand Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. Ken Neal, former editorial page editor of the Tulsa Whirled, and Ken Levit, director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, were the main speakers.

It was billed as an informational meeting, but turned out to be more of a pep rally. No opponents of the tax were invited to speak. The post has audio, photos, and a summary of the gathering.

Neal said, "People accuse us of having pretty pictures. That's true, but you have to have a concept. At this point, nobody can develop detailed specification. I might just say, that if this happens, if we approve this tax, then we will have the money to start the specifications for each dam.... This is a concept."

Now, weren't we told that there was at least enough money in Vision 2025 to pay for engineering for these dams? In fact that's what Terry Simonson tried to claim all the Vision 2025 money was spent on (before he disappeared). And we can't even start the lengthy Corps of Engineers approval process until the engineering is complete.

I think it's interesting that Neal completely glosses over the $90 million for the "living river" and downplays the "downtown connector" ($15 million) and the pedestrian bridges at 41st and 61st Streets ($30 million), none of which is in the INCOG plan. Nevertheless, he ascribes the large amount of public input in the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan development to this hastily thrown together county river tax plan.

Neal also claims that fishing will improve "a hell of a lot" because of the new dams.

In his remarks, Ken Levit said that "this is a plan that INCOG built with years of community input." He needs not to say that, because it isn't true. The Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan was built by INCOG with years of community input. But close to half of the cost in the plan on the ballot October 9 is for items that were not in the ARMCP -- the items I listed above.

(I don't know this for sure, but since GKFF hired Bing Thom to do a river study for the area south of 21st Street, I wonder if it was Thom -- the man behind the islands in the middle of the Arkansas River, that came up with the "living river," the pedestrian bridges, and the "gathering places.")

There was also an interesting answer to a question about the charitable money and whether any of it might end up in Sand Springs. Levit emphasized that none of it was earmarked. That's funny because almost all the talk about gathering places and improvements funded by these charitable contributions has focused on the east bank of the river south of 31st Street in Tulsa.

They only answered two questions, and Neal tried to finesse a question about this morning's Whirled story about the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's concerns about the proposal. Again he tried to wrap the county river tax plan in the mantle of the ARMCP, going even further and claiming the Corps of Engineers imprimatur. "Do you suppose the Corps is going to approve its own plan? Whatta you think?" While the Corps has been heavily involved in the development of the ARMCP, half of the plan on the October 9th ballot is not found in the ARMCP.

Aaron Griffith gives his reasons for voting against the proposed $282 million river sales tax increase. Aaron comes from a left-wing populist perspective, but much of his argument will resonate across the political spectrum, and I like the way he has annotated each of his points with a relevant link.

Tulsa County River Tax: A Question of Style or Substance

It seems like an age old question: What should our priorities be in life? To create well-maintained, vibrant, safe, diverse, green, clean communities? Should our collective vision focus on substance and sustainability or should style and self-indulgent luxuries dictate our priorities? On October 9, Tulsa County Voters arrive at an ozone-polluted, pothole-riddled crossroads to face the decision of which way to go.

The proposed County river tax is not a transformation, but a mutation of the geographic inequity, institutionalized neglect, economic segregation, and false promises of progress as promised as usual in Tulsa County. We will not become a progressive community by continuing to neglect the maintenance of our failing roads and infrastructure or ignoring the environmental elephants in the room in regards to river development.

It will not happen by disregarding alternative sources of funding for river development, which do not increase regressive County sales taxes that steal primary revenue streams away from struggling municipalities or by infrastructure privatization.

It will not happen by perverting the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan to include a 41st St. pedestrian bridge or wasting precious resources on unwanted, unnecessary, special elections.

It will not happen by gambling on exaggerated economic impact projections or empty promises of good-paying construction jobs that won't have any prevailing wage protections and nothing to protect against 1099 worker misclassification abuse, that places honest contractors who play by the rules at a competitive disadvantage.

It will not happen by misguided, last minute, half-hearted attempts to address the hardship this tax increase causes to our at-risk, low income, and fixed income families living paycheck to paycheck by offering a year end tax rebate to those who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit that will do nothing to affect the immediate impact this new tax increase on the basic necessities of life will have on their budgets.

It will not happen by giving private special interest controlled Mayors, County Commissioners, and their politically appointed new bureaucratic unrepresentative river authority the final say on development along the river within the sovereignty of municipalities by voting to give them a giant blank check, a new regressive tax, for continued failure to deliver the progress as promised.

At the polls during the October 9 special election, I urge you to please vote NO, so we can begin a real dialogue on how to provide sustainable solutions to the critical long-term infrastructure, environmental, socioeconomic, transportation, planning challenges we face in Tulsa County in order to promote, preserve, and protect real progressive values.

Sign suppression

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Would you buy a used car from this dealer at 9404 E. 31st St.?


If memory serves, this same dealer has posted messages accusing those who believe in the enforcement of America's immigration laws of being hateful racists.

Since the signs cost a lot less than $5, maybe people should turn in their signs, then donate the proceeds to buy more signs. :) (I think I saw a variation of that idea on an episode of "The Lucy Show" -- Lucy exploited the double-your-money back guarantee of a brand of canned beans.)

If you'd like a "NO RIVER TAX" sign for your yard, Tulsa Machine (a sign printing shop) at 1503 E. Admiral Pl. has them for sale for a nominal price.

Both sides now

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From an email about the upcoming Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County's luncheon (Tuesday, September 11, 11:30 p.m., Holiday Inn Select, I-44 and Yale -- the old Hilton) (emphasis added:

Commissioner Perry will present the Proposed River Plan/Tax in an educational format. He will be aided by an engineer who played a key role in the development of the 42 mile River Corridor plan from which the proposed plan was derived.

Commissioner Perry will present arguments which have been made both for and against the Proposed River Plan and the associated county sales tax to fund it. The matter is scheduled for a county wide vote on October 9th.

If you're a Republican woman and think it's egregiously unfair for a proponent of higher taxes to represent both sides of this debate (a debate where the county Republican party platform comes down solidly in opposition), you might politely encourage the RWC president, Nancy Rothman, to allow an actual opponent to argue the case for the opposition. (I won't reproduce her contact info here; if you're a club member, you have her phone number and email address in the meeting notice.)

UPDATE: I just spoke to Commissioner Perry, who wanted to emphasize that it was Ms. Rothman's choice, not his, to have him present both sides of the argument. He says he's going to have to walk quite a tight rope and that neither side is likely to be satisfied that their argument was fully presented. He also took issue to my characterization of him as a proponent of higher taxes, that there are things that make him uneasy about the river tax plan (the tax increase, Broken Arrow's opposition) and he's not cheerleading for it, but on balance he thinks it's good thing, and he is a proponent of letting the voters decide. He also pointed out that in the legislature he sometimes opposed sending an issue to a vote of the people: the lottery, casino gambling, certain tax increases.

Regarding the RWCTC event, Perry told me that Ms. Rothman is a professional mediator who feels that the Republican Party is too divided and contentious, so she didn't want to have a debate. I would think that, as a mediator, she would understand the importance of each side feeling that their concerns were fully aired and given a fair hearing. Perhaps her mediation sessions consist of her picking one side to argue both sides of a dispute.

To be fair to Ms. Rothman, there are political parties that do a much better job than Republicans of maintaining unity and harmony. For example, the Workers' Party of Korea presents a united front on every issue. You never hear a dissenting voice on any issue, or if you do, you never hear from it again. Perhaps she has the WPK in mind as a model for the Republican Party's future.

In 1980, Congressman Tom Steed was interviewed at Rose State College and had something very sensible to say about the way decreasing voter participation empowers pressure groups. (Found on the Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum.)

Well, you really struck a nerve with me there because my pet-peeve is the fact that people won't vote. And I have studied it. I've talked to a lot of authorities and there's a lot of people concerned about it all over the nation. And so I've actually come to the conclusion that there's no more insidious enemy my country has than a person who will not vote.

Now, as the vote went down and down over these years, the pressure groups in Washington went up and up and up. Where there used to be a page of them in the telephone book in Washington, now there's many pages. Everybody has a pressure group.

Well, finally the Congressman who votes for what's right and antagonizes one or more of these pressure groups comes home and finds that most of the people that he represents and that he did that for won't even bother to vote. He has no protection. And off goes his head. Well Joe Doaks sees Bill Spivey get it in the neck, so the next time, he gets cautious. And it's a growing sickness.

I don't know how to make people vote. Now in the bicentennial year, we got together, we raised money, we put on a special drive. We had the help of all the media and everybody else. No one was against it. We finally got 55 percent of the eligible voters in Oklahoma to register and we got 94 percent of the 55 percent to vote. And we led the nation - in our bicentennial year. Number one in the nation - in citizenship! Did you hear anything about it? Any hats go up in the air? Have you seen any chamber of commerce slogans or anything? If we were number one in football, maybe we'd a heard a lot, but not on citizenship.

Now after that, I said, well, I don't know, I give up. If that won't set the state on fire, I don't know what you could do. But it's a sad thing and I never pass up an opportunity to scold people because they won't go vote.

When ordinary people don't pay attention and don't support officials who put their interests first, voters are swayed by the ads purchased by various pressure groups. Elected officials learn to fear the pressure groups rather than their own voters.

I think that goes a long way toward explaining how the current ill-conceived river tax increase found its way to the ballot.

I've commented on the pointlessness of the 41st Street and 61st Street pedestrian-only bridges, which are part of the sales tax package Tulsa County residents will be voting on October 9, but which are not part of the Arkansas River Master Corridor Plan. The 41st Street pedestrian-only bridge would in fact obstruct something that is in the ARMCP: A combination vehicle and pedestrian bridge linking Red Fork to Brookside.

The two pedestrian-only bridges will connect on the west side of the river to an industrial area and a railroad track, respectively. Cyclists and joggers may appreciate having more ways to make a circuit around the river, but few Tulsans will make use of these bridges, which are priced at $15 million a piece.

Up in Amsterdam, N. Y., Robert N. Going wonders about the value of a pedestrian bridge proposed to span the Mohawk River. Like our 61st Street bridge, this one would dead-end at a railroad track and would fall well short of connecting the two sides of the town.

In Amsterdam's case, the bridge is being financed by a statewide bond issue that passed a couple of years ago. The local assemblyman (equivalent to Oklahoma's state representative) included money for the bridge in the bond. Just as Tulsa County officials didn't consult with City of Tulsa officials about the City's priorities for the river, the assemblyman didn't speak to Amsterdam city officials about whether there were better ways to use the $17 million that he had finagled for the pedestrian bridge.

Robert presents an alternative and less expensive idea that would improve the city's waterfront and usefully connect one place to another. His idea won't get anywhere, because it doesn't cost enough and involve enough money for construction contracts, so there won't be anyone with a financial motivation to lobby for its approval.

It took me a while to figure this out, but to the people who make the decisions, a plan for civic improvement isn't a real plan unless it involves higher taxes, the issuance of revenue bonds, and lots and lots of concrete and steel. There has to be a sufficiently concentrated benefit for some group of businesses and institutions to make it worth their while to lobby and campaign for something.

I've been outspoken in opposition to several of these big tax projects, but each time I've offered an alternative approach to civic improvement. When The Channels concept surfaced last fall, I used my UTW column to set out what I think Tulsans really want when they say they want river development and the best way to make that happen.

My approach to civic improvements usually involves a series of incremental improvements, none of them wildly expensive. Roberta Brandes Gratz's concept of "urban husbandry," as opposed to "project planning," guides me in this regard. Some of my ideas involve redeploying existing resources or eliminating regulatory barriers (e.g., allowing entrepreneurs to operate private bus services, aka jitneys).

I've always marveled at how quick the Vote Yes folks are to scoff at my alternatives to their plans for civic improvement. They don't want to know my alternative plan for making Tulsa a better place. They want to know my alternative plan for raising taxes and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new construction. The idea that we don't need to raise and spend all that money is unacceptable. I can't find it right now, but there was even a letter to the editor mocking the fact that I always offer a less expensive way to do something.

One more thought connected to this: Vision 2025 included $15 million for the Route 66 corridor. That kind of money could have been used to amazing effect, supplementing the positive impact of the National Park Service's Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. The money could have funded facade improvements, rehabilitation of neon, and other efforts to preserve and restore commercial buildings along Route 66 in Tulsa County. It's the roadside businesses, and the memories they stir of pre-Interstate Highway travel, that draw people to Route 66. (The federal program has $10,000,000 to spend over 2,000 miles of road. Tulsa County has $15,000,000 for 26 miles of road.)

Instead, much of the money is being used to build a new museum, which means a big general construction contract and lots of money flowing down to subcontractors. No one thought of using the money for restoration and preservation of existing buildings because no one could figure out how to make a buck off of it. (Which is silly, because there is money in restoration and preservation. The notion just hasn't caught on here yet.)

RELATED: An excellent post by Jeff Shaw which fed into my thoughts on this issue as well. He asks some questions of the economic impact numbers the Chamber Pots are touting for the river tax plan. I have a copy of that spreadsheet, which I intend to post soon, and at first glance it looks like their economic impact estimate is predicated on how much tax money is spent on construction. No account is made of the impact of withdrawing the money for construction from the uses to which it would have been put otherwise. The model behind it seems to predict that if you taxed every penny and devoted it to construction of new public facilities, the city would become a wealthy paradise.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Arkansas River category from September 2007.

Arkansas River: August 2007 is the previous archive.

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