Tulsa Vision2 Category
One of the most active social media accounts during the Vision2 campaign was @SayNotoVision2 on Twitter. I don't know who ran the account, but he or she was active on a daily basis, rebutting vague and misleading statements from proponents, and making the argument against Tulsa County's Vision2 sales tax scheme in clear, pithy comments.
@SayNotoVision2 announced on election night that there would be comments about the victory on Twitter at 10 am Wednesday morning. Here they are, in sequence from top to bottom:
I was in the KJRH 2 News studio election night, on a panel with news anchors Russ McCaskey and Karen Larsen and fellow analysts David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute and State Sen. Rick Brinkley to talk about state questions and other local results as they came in.
Here's our last panel segment, starting at 9:24 pm if I recall correctly, talking about Vision2. The Tulsa County Election Board didn't begin reporting any local results until about 9 p.m., so this is shortly after I got the first load results from about 20 precincts, showing strong swings to the "no" side compared to the 2007 river tax vote.
As we were getting ready to talk and watching live reports from the watch parties, I was delighted to spot my wife and kids at the Citizens for a Better Vision watch party at Tally's Cafe.
(Video after the jump, and you can also find it online: Vision2 fails to pass; supporters considering similar proposals for future ballots.)
I promise, I'll have more to say about all this very soon. As you might expect, all the chores that were deferred during the campaign are demanding attention.
For your convenience, here is a list of the candidates I've endorsed, will be voting for, or otherwise recommend in the November 6, 2012, Oklahoma general election.
As I have time, I'll add links to endorsements I've already made, brief notes about those I haven't previously written about. Here's a link to the archive of BatesLine posts about Oklahoma Election 2012.
President and Vice President: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They have a sensible plan for putting our economy back on track. Just to send the author of Obamacare -- and countless other taxes and regulations into retirement -- will give business owners the confidence to create new jobs. On the world front, the weak response to the attack on our diplomats abroad demands that we fire President Obama.
Congress, 1st District: Jim Bridenstine
Congress, 2nd District: Markwayne Mullin
Although I didn't endorse either of these gentlemen in the primaries, we need as many Republicans in the U. S. House as possible if we're to have any hope of undoing the damage of the Obama years, starting with a repeal of Obamacare.
County questions (aka Vision2):
Proposition 1: NO
Proposition 2: NO
These taxes will not go into effect for more than four years, and will still be in effect until the end of 2029. Please note carefully what the ballot says. It's not what you've been hearing in all the ads.
State Supreme Court: NO on all. They think it is their place to stop Oklahoma voters from passing legislation that might be appealed to the Supreme Court. They're wrong.
Legislative races in general: Never forget that when you vote for a legislative candidate (U. S. Senate, U. S. House, state rep, or state senator), you're also casting a vote for that candidate's party to control that chamber, to appoint committee chairmen and control the flow of legislation. I urge conservatives to vote Republican in legislative races. For all the disappointments we've had with Republican leadership at the state capitol, remember that it's better than the alternative. On the sanctity of human life, Oklahoma has made significant advances under GOP legislative leadership, passing bills that were routinely killed in committee when Democrats controlled the State Senate.
House District 71: Katie Henke. It's a choice between a smart, conservative Republican and a Democrat whose job has been to push for bigger government. The opposition to Henke has run a nasty and dishonest campaign against this thoughtful schoolteacher.
Senate District 39: If Julie Hall were a pro-life conservative Republican; or if Brian Crain were a staunch supporter of neighborhoods and a staunch opponent of corporate welfare, this would be an easy decision, but they're not, and it isn't. Republican Brian Crain has been a disappointment on issue after issue, and yet he carried the pro-life personhood bill in the legislature. Hall is the more sensible of the two on Vision2, and she knows from personal experience the importance of anti-SLAPP legislation to protect our freedom of speech.
Tulsa City Council District 1: Twan Jones, the challenger, who opposes Vision2. While I've supported the incumbent in many past elections for standing against the Cockroach Caucus, it appears that he has made his peace with the powers that be, supporting a regressive sales tax that does little to help his constituents. Time for a change.
Tulsa City Councilor Blake Ewing has a blog post out today explaining his opposition to Vision2 Tulsa County Proposition 1 in great detail, addressing the "deal closing fund" and the "airport part" in separate sections, and it's worth reading in full, but here are a few highlights (emphasis added):
As I've at times been the media's poster boy for the "anti-Vision" side, I figure it best to clarify my position in the few days remaining before the vote. I apologize for not doing this sooner. It's been difficult for me to discern the best approach on this and I fear that I may have done a disservice by not being more vocal through the process. If I would have consented, our local media would have had me on TV and radio every day and I just didn't want it to be about me. Also, many of the pro-Vision folks are taking it very personally and I've been troubled by the damage my opposition has caused to some those relationships.
So Councilor Ewing is experiencing first-hand what happens when you rock the boat in what I've called Tulsa's yacht-guest subculture.
Ewing makes some great points about what the push for a deal-closing fund says about Tulsa:
Trying to grow our city's employment base by paying companies to come here (or buying or building things for them), ensures that we'll attract the kind of companies who can be bought. I'm just not into building Tulsa's economic future on the backs of companies we lured here with money. Better to meet a nice girl and settle down than to... pay for one... right? I'd rather see us be the best city in the world to start a business, grow a company, raise a family, etc. There are things we could be doing to grow new industries, support small business development, inspire entrepreneurship, etc., and we won't have to worry about those folks packing up and leaving for the highest bidding community because they have roots here.
Last point on this one: Does it bother anyone else that our area leadership seems to be of the opinion that the only way to grow business in our area is to pay companies to come here? It's depressing to me... and it's not the kind of leadership Tulsa deserves. Expect better from the people you elect... and from the people tasked with growing Tulsa's business community.
Ewing also explains why this is on the ballot now, four years before the tax goes into effect and before we have any clarity on the future of bankrupt American Airlines. If you thought it was cynical political manipulation, you guessed right (emphasis added):
There is simply no good reason why we're voting on this now except that the people who put it together wanted to capitalize on the community concern for job loss and the timing of the presidential election, with the emphasis being on the latter. They stated repeatedly in the two meetings I was in that the consultant said the best chance of passing something like this is in a large election. The reason being, a well-funded campaign over a short period of time can beat unfunded and disorganized opposition if you can pound the lightly informed masses with media in the weeks leading up to the vote. We rushed this whole thing so it could be on the November ballot. Nobody at the airport was pressing for this timeframe. That came straight from The Chamber....
Spirit and Navistar didn't even ask for the upgrades. The Chamber asked them to make a list of their needs so that we weren't just putting American Airlines improvements on a list. While there are some needs at those two plants, they were not considered to be pressing. With all of the things in our community that we could be doing to promote and encourage job growth, investing in facilities for employers who weren't even asking for it to provide PR cover seems...
Ewing confirms what I suspected: Our local mis-leaders were following the advice of former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste, and what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you didn't think you could do before." The Chamber has been wanting a big pile of money to play with for years, and they're using worry about jobs to get one.
Something Ewing doesn't mention: County commissioners have said they won't release the funds if they don't get iron-clad commitments from the beneficiary companies. If the authority that oversees the Prop 1 money can't come to terms with the intended recipients, if American, Spirit, and Navistar don't want the strings that come attached to the improvements and equipment, guess where the airport improvement money goes? Into the deal-closing fund. (Read the ballot resolution carefully. There's no minimum amount that they've promised to spend on the airport.)
All sales tax revenues in excess of the amounts necessary to complete the above listed projects (not to exceed $254,000,000.00 in total) plus any advance funding costs associated therewith shall be used to fund land, buildings, infrastructure and other capital improvements for the purpose of promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, including funding job creation programs....
Thank you, Councilor Ewing, for taking a bold stand in opposition to this mess.
One possible outcome of Tuesday's vote is the defeat of Proposition 1 and the passage of Proposition 2. Many voters hear about proposed projects and think, "what the heck."
There are plenty of reasons to turn down Prop 2. Here are just a few:
We're voting in 2012 on a tax that won't be collected until 2017. Only debt-laden advance-funded projects will be started before then. We don't know who will be president, what state the economy will be in, or what our greatest needs will be more than four years from now. We should wait until 2016 to make any decisions about a tax to replace the Vision 2025 tax that expires at the end of that year.
We're tying up revenue until the day before 2030. If Vision2 passes and a more urgent needs arises between now and then, we'll have to raise taxes to meet it.
The Vision2 Prop 2 tax can only be spent on capital improvements. Cities can use Vision2 money to build things, but not to maintain or operate them. If instead a city passed a city tax to replace Vision 2025, the city would have the flexibility to decide how best to allocate the money between building new stuff and fixing and maintaining what we already have. Remember that it was the cost of operating our swimming pools that led Mayor Bill LaFortune to shut most of them down.
Specific to Tulsa County's list of projects:
Tulsa County included the juvenile justice facility in the 2005 4 to Fix 2 package. They said they could meet that urgent need for $2.5 million. Instead they sat on it and are now asking for $38 million to build a brand new facility. They should do what they promised with the revenue we've already given them.
Tulsa County taxpayers have put tens of millions of dollars into Expo Square over the past decade. Now all the facilities are new or significantly modernized. Expo Square has just reached a very lucrative deal with the Creek Nation. It's time for Expo Square to use its operating revenue to fund the kind of minor improvements slated for Vision2.
Specific to the City of Tulsa's tentative list of projects:
The plan for spending the Vision2 money was thrown together haphazardly, based more on how many supporters showed up at the meetings than on the strategic impact of the proposed project.
Tulsa would have more money to spend and could spend more time developing a strategic plan to spend it if we vote down Vision2 and plan to vote in our own city tax to replace Vision 2025 when it expires at the end of 2016.
$5 million for Gilcrease Expressway is a token amount, not enough to accomplish any significant progress on a road that will cost around $800 million to complete as designed, but apparently just enough to buy the support of a few gullible politicians.
Tulsa Children's Museum may be a worthy cause, but it's a private organization, not a public entity. Why should money be taken from me by coercion to support a private organization? (Personally, I think better kid-friendly exhibits at existing museums would do more to get children excited about art, science, history, etc., than a separate museum that tries to cover all topics and does none of them well.)
Tulsa Library, TCC, OU, OSU, Langston -- all worthy institutions, but all of them already have their own sources of taxpayer dollars. The amount designated for each seems arbitrary, not linked to specific projects that need a certain amount to complete. Why divert money to them that could instead be used toward the City of Tulsa's own massive capital improvement backlog?
There are a couple of serious flaws with the Vision2 poll that was published today in the Tulsa World and conducted by SoonerPoll.com. The results weren't too surprising, and they may very well match what we see on election day, but nevertheless the results should be taken with a big grain of salt.
I commend SoonerPoll.com for being transparent enough about their approach that the limitations imposed by that approach can be discussed. Here's their disclosure:
A poll of 440 likely voters was conducted by SoonerPoll.com, using a random digit dialing technique that included both cell phone and landline telephone numbers.
Interviewers collected the data Oct. 25-Nov. 1. Results were weighted by gender and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both). The poll was sponsored by the Tulsa World.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4.67 percentage points. This poll conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls. A complete description of the methodology can be found here.
In SoonerPoll.com's detailed description of their methodology, they write:
A detailed methodology that discloses sampling errors and statistical tests of significance will be made available for every survey conducted by SoonerPoll.com. Among other data, SoonerPoll.com's methodology reports will include sample sizes and disposition reports.
So far, they don't seem to have published sample size and disposition reports for this survey.
The biggest problem first: You can't simply add independent samples and use the total as the margin of error of the aggregate. In their disclosure, SoonerPoll.com effectively tells us that they took a sample of six separate populations, then weighted them according to their estimate of the percentage each subset contributes to the total electorate.
Margin of error is mathematically tied to sample size. (You can find a margin of error calculator here.) As your sample size gets bigger the margin of error decreases. The MOE for a sample of 440 from a homogeneous population is indeed plus or minus 4.67 percentage points.
But what we have here are samples of six separate populations (men with cell phones, men with land lines, men with both, women with cell phones, women with land lines, women with both) that together add up to 440 respondents.
In the best case scenario, they got 73 responses from each group. That's a MOE of 11.47 for each of the six samples. You can't simply add six separate samples with an MOE of 11.47 and magically get a lower MOE when you combine them. At best, your MOE is plus or minus 11.47 percentage points, but then there's also the potential for error in the weight you assign to each sample.
Legal Insurrection has a good overview of polling sample size and margin of error.
The next problem: How do you know your respondents are really likely voters?
Let me acknowledge that it is far more difficult for candidates to get information to the voters and for pollsters to get information from the voters than it was in the days when everyone had a landline, no one had a mobile phone, no one had caller ID, and almost everyone had a listed number. Today, you might get a phone to ring, but no one will pick up because they don't recognize the number. I hear that the ratio of completed responses to dialing attempts is typically less than 10%.
There is a great deal of debate in the polling community as to how to compensate for these challenges. One approach, which Sooner Poll has taken here, is to dial numbers randomly, then ask a series of screening questions to determine whether the respondent is likely to vote. Each pollster has his own set of screening questions. Some may be as simple as asking the voter to rate his own likelihood of voting, some may involve asking the voter if he knows where his polling place is.
The other approach is to use past voting history to identify likely voters. In Oklahoma and in most other states, the election board keeps a record of the elections in which you voted and by what method (in person on election day, absentee by mail, absentee in-person at the election board). A pollster can match voter records with phone numbers and then call only registered voters, or screen more tightly based on past voting frequency and recency of registration. There are problems with that approach too -- voters without landlines, voters who move but continue to vote at their old address, ambiguities in matching voter names to phone subscriber names.
Pollster John McLaughlin (not the TV pundit) explained the problems with random-digit-dial polling about a month ago in the context of the presidential race:
So recently it was revealed by the Daily Caller that Obama's most senior campaign strategist David Axelrod has been lobbying Gallup Poll staffers saying that their polls were "saddled with some methodological problems". Dick Morris reported that Axelrod was upset at Gallup for "generating polling data negative to the President." Gallup didn't change their methods and by coincidence found the Justice Department suing them with an unrelated lawsuit. You only have to wonder if these other media pollsters received emails, calls and visits about the correct Axelrod methodology.
So what's the common Axelrod methodology that causes the media polls to under count Republicans? Are they calling registered voters from the publicly available lists with actual voter history? Those lists easily reflect the 130 million voters who turned out in 2008, or 2010, or have registered since those elections. They truly represent the actual voter population. Good scientific sampling would say pull a random sample of voters from the actual population of voters.
However, David Axelrod has been urging pollsters to randomly dial phones exchanges and cell phone exchanges and merge them somehow without regard to voter affiliation. The 2010 Census said that the American Voting Age Population was over 230 million adults. About 40% don't vote. Calling the 100 million eligible adults who choose not to register, or are registered, but don't vote, waters down enthusiastic Republicans. Who knows if the person who is talking to the NBC pollster is really registered to vote? Overall there's about a quarter of a million landlines in the United States that could be called. Plenty more than actual voters. However, if that doesn't dilute the Republicans enough, there's over 330 million wireless cell phone connections in the United States that can be randomly dialed.
So these swing state media pollsters are just randomly dialing the phone book and cell phone listings to water down Republican votes. The deck is stacked. Regardless how Mitt Romney does tonight he can't win the post debate polls - unless they call voter lists and make sure the demographics match the real voter file for age, gender, race geography and even party.
Then there's the duration of the survey period: It took them a full week to collect a sample, by which time the first people they contacted may have changed their minds.
Finally, they haven't disclosed how the questions were worded. Voters won't see words like "Vision2," "deal-closing fund," or "low-water dam" on the ballot, and they might have a different reaction to the pollster's question than they would to the actual ballot language.
It may be that all these flaws cancel each other out, and I don't mean to cast blame on SoonerPoll.com, which is no doubt doing its best to gauge public sentiment in an increasingly difficult environment. We'll find out on Tuesday.
Why does it matter? Poll results can be used to create a bandwagon effect, particularly when an issue isn't strongly partisan. Without any strong sense of what to do, some voters will go along with whichever side they see in the majority. That's why, if you're in opposition to Vision2, you need to post it on your Facebook wall, put a sign in your yard, and send an email to friends explaining why you're voting no.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife is opposed to new dams on the Arkansas River, according to a Public Radio Tulsa news story on the impact of low-water dams on the river's water and wild animals. The Tulsa City Council has included $71 million for modifying the Zink Lake dam and for construction of a new dam near Jenks in their tentative list of projects to be funded by the Tulsa County Vision2 sales tax scheme.
Chris Whisenhunt, fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, says the Department is opposed to any new dams on the river.
He says that sediment buildup in Zink Lake has created water quality that's too poor for some of the river's most important species fish. He says Zink Dam should be improved if possible, because it's a safety concern, and because updates might improve water quality.
He also says the Department would welcome better dam designs, but that it's skeptical whether that would actually happen.
"Currently our only example of what will happen to the Arkansas River is what Zink Lake is right now," he said, "and that is a very poor habitat for most of our sport fish."
The only unequivocally positive comment in the story about new dams comes from Gaylon Pinc, who works for PMg, the company hired sole-source by the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to provide program management services for Vision 2025 and other Tulsa County tax packages and which would likely be hired for the same purpose should Vision2 be approved by the voters.
Pinc reportedly attempts to perpetuate the revisionist myth that voters were only voting for studies of building dams in the 2003 Vision 2025 vote.
2025 didn't include enough money to construct any additional low water dams on the Arkansas, just to study their possible environmental effects.
The "vote yes" bunch tried to make this claim back in 2007, when the county river tax was on the ballot, but a look at the Vision 2025 ballot propositions and the way the tax was sold to the voters makes it clear that voters were led to expect dams to be built if Vision 2025 passed. See my blog entry, "Randi's river revisionism", and my column from the same week Dams, not studies, promised in Vision 2025, for a thorough rebuttal.)
The Public Radio Tulsa story also cites concerns from the head of the Tulsa Audubon Society about the impact of new dams on wildlife habitat:
Fifteenth and Riverside, looking out over the Arkansas River, doesn't exactly feel like the kind of exotic locale where you'd expect to find an endangered species.
As it turns out, however, there is a threatened bird that makes its home right here on the river, at least for part of the year.
John Kennington, president of the Tulsa Audubon Society, points out Zink Island, "which is a sand island in the middle of the Arkansas River."
"This is an area that the least terns use to nest on," he said.
That's interior least terns he's talking about, Tulsa's very own endangered bird. The tern is a small species of bird that's currently flown South for the winter.
But Kennington says, when they're here, "they like to nest on a sandy gravelly open area, so the Zink Island gives them some really good habitat for their nests."
You won't find that kind of habitat on a river like the Mississippi. That's because the Arkansas River, in our area at least, is a special kind of waterway, known as a "braided prairie stream."
While I can understand the feelings of those who would like to see a lake in place of the river that we have, I have to wonder whether it makes enough of a difference to make it worth the investment. The changes of the river over the year have a certain fascination. When the water level is low enough, you can see the shelf of shale, right at the bend of the river, that was once a natural ford.
Of course, it's silly for the "vote yes" bunch to claim that Vision2 will "put water in the river." The best we can hope for is to detain water that comes to us from upstream.
Will water in the river really attract the Creative Class to Tulsa, as some claim? Austin has dammed up the Colorado River to form a narrow lake, but it isn't the major draw for young creatives. On my visits to Austin, I observed a small number of joggers and cyclists, but no large gatherings drawn by water in the river. What keeps Austin weird is to be found away from the river on South Congress, Sixth Street, and especially on and near the University of Texas campus.
Wichita has water in their river, but no significant development alongside it. The big draws for young adults are Old Town and East Douglas, not the river.
Old buildings seem to be a stronger draw than water features for young people. Back in 2007, I wrote about a visit to downtown Orlando, Florida, on a Saturday night:
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 Lake Eola, and the sidewalk along Central Boulevard next to the lake was empty except for me.
Instead, the throng of twentysomethings was promenading up and down four blocks of Orange Avenue, a street lined with old commercial buildings 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.
Let me spell it out for you. In the heart of this modern, sprawling tourist mecca, in the midst of sparkling office towers, a sports arena, and a palm-lined lake, crowds of young people were drawn to 100-year-old buildings which had managed to escape the wrecking ball. The popularity of these buildings did not seem to suffer from being nowhere near the water.
These buildings were the exactly the sort of you find in Tulsa's Blue Dome, Brady, Brookside, South Boston, and Cherry Street districts, the sort that were demolished by urban renewal in Greenwood and where the Williams Center now stands.
The same dynamic, one documented by Jane Jacobs in her 1960 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is at work in Orlando, Tulsa, and cities from coast-to-coast: Old buildings provide a place for new businesses to take root. They provide an opportunity for people with dreams and ideas but not much capital to get something started and improve it over time.
TulsaNow, which has announced its opposition Tulsa County's Vision2 tax scheme, has developed Vision 2029, a detailed example of an alternative, showing one possible scenario of what the City of Tulsa could accomplish if Vision2 is voted down and the City of Tulsa enacts a tax of its own to go into effect when the Vision 2025 tax expires. The Vision 2029 plan spends $511 million of about $558 million that a 13-year, 0.6 cent City of Tulsa sales tax could generate. From the introduction:
We believe the successor to Vision2025 should be better planned, more thought out, and have wider reaching goals. However, it's easy to dismiss those statements as pipe dreams, so we thought it would be easier to show you. We put together a package that would meet the same general funding criteria as Vision2, but ours would only tax the City of Tulsa. This means our example actually collects less than Vision2, but we think it can show how you can do so much more with it....
This is only an example, but we think this is a great way to show how you can do much better than Vision2. Do you want a safer, cleaner, more sustainable city? Then vote NO on Vision2 and tell your City and County leaders you want a Vision for 2029, not a Vision for 2 years from now.
Rather than fund tenant-specific equipment (e.g. an engine test cell for American Airlines), TulsaNow would fund the "majority of the facility improvements requested... but no purchasing of equipment for work that may never be performed in Tulsa." That brings the price tag down from $254 million to $95 million. TulsaNow's Vision2029 still has money for infrastructure to help new job creators, but the fund would be limited to "water, sewer, roads, site cleanup" and would "be controlled by city council following a strict set of guidelines."
TulsaNow's Prop 2 includes almost all of the city's Vision2 wish list, plus much more, including student housing to serve the OSU-Tulsa and Langston campuses, Red Fork Main Street redevelopment, the Art Deco Museum, and bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.
Vision2 includes money for building new things, but no money to run them and keep them going. TulsaNow would dedicate 0.1 cent of the 0.6 cents for operational costs -- $60 million (about $5 million a year) to make bus service more frequent, $20 million for additional public safety personnel, and $5 million for parks, mowing, and greenspace maintenance.
Personally, I'd prefer a city replacement for Vision 2025 to include much more for basic infrastructure, and I'd hope we wouldn't simply hand out money like candy to the colleges "just because."
But that's not the point of TulsaNow presenting an alternative. TulsaNow is saying that there's something much bigger and much better for Tulsa if we will vote down sloppy, hasty Vision2 on Tuesday, then have a serious and strategic look at our city's needs, leading to a package that nearly every Tulsan can support with enthusiasm. There's time to do this right.
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.
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):
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, 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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 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.
In 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.
This week civic group TulsaNow announced the organization's opposition to the Vision2 county sales tax scheme. Tulsa Now is a civic organization that was founded in 2001 to promote discussion and strategic thinking about Tulsa's present and future. Here's TulsaNow's official statement; I'll have a few comments to follow.
TulsaNow is a non-profit group who supports forward-thinking zoning, development and public-dollar reinvestment. We were formed over a decade ago based on the desire to push Tulsa forward and immediately began helping the effort that became Vision2025.
The idea of a program to follow in the footsteps of Vision2025 is very exciting to us, but we would not be a responsible organization if we did not take a critical eye to every project that effects the issues that we support.
Our organization has been studying and discussing Vision2 since the name was first mentioned only a few months ago. We have researched, considered and debated every aspect of the project and how it was put together. On September 26th, our governing board met to decide if we had an official position on Vision2, and here are the results.
On Proposition 1, for economic development, we found that:
1. There is insufficient emphasis given towards promoting diverse and sustainable industries.
2. The closing fund did not have adequate guidance over how the money should be spent, and the citizens are not fairly represented in those decisions.
3. The closing fund has no set collection limit and is projected to collect far more than originally advertised. This means the citizens lack direct influence not only on how the money is spent, but how much is spent.
Because of these three factors, our board unanimously voted to Oppose proposition 1.
On proposition 2, for quality of life projects, we found that:
1. The vote is improperly rushed as the tax collections and spending cannot begin until 2017. This time could be spent collecting public input, planning and prioritizing. In addition, the amount of time between when the project was originally proposed, and the day of election, was not sufficient.
2. The City of Tulsa, and other municipalities, can only "ask" for projects. The ultimate control over what gets funded is held by the County. Additionally, the areas where the tax money is spent and the area where the tax money is collected do not coincide well. This may be more appropriate as a City tax and not County.
3. While many of the projects proposed coincide with the priorities of PlaniTulsa, little or no focus was given towards redevelopment and transportation issues which are key components of PlaniTulsa. Additionally, little or no focus was given towards the areas of the city deemed to be the most in need of public dollar reinvestment.
While Vision2 may fund many projects that we are passionately in support of, because of these three factors our board voted to Oppose proposition 2. This vote was not unanimous.
Some background to put this announcement in perspective:
While I am a member of TulsaNow's board, and have been for many years, I am at one extreme of the spectrum when it comes to tax elections. Most, if not all, of the other members on the board enthusiastically supported Vision 2025 and the River Tax in 2007, so their rejection of Vision2 is notable. I tend to put the burden of proof on the proponents of a tax package; most of the other board members would give any tax package the benefit of the doubt. A tax package would have to be especially odious to overcome their inclination to vote yes. Nevertheless, the board unanimously voted to oppose Proposition 1; the vote on Proposition 2 was nearly unanimous.
TulsaNow was founded in 2001 by four individuals from the Terwilliger Heights neighborhood -- former Mayor Rodger Randle, TV personality Karen Keith, arts leader Linda Frazier, and local historian Marilyn Inhofe Tucker, who were frustrated after the defeat of "It's Tulsa's Time" in November 2000, the second attempt to pass a sales tax for a downtown arena. (You can read the official history of TulsaNow here.)
As this core group expanded to include friends of friends and acquaintances to become a broader network, it reached me, because of my involvement in the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations and in opposition to "It's Tulsa's Time." Wendy Thomas was brought in as a facilitator to lead brainstorming discussions and corral ideas into a mission and an organization.
In July 2002, TulsaNow members served as facilitators at Mayor LaFortune's vision summit and helped collate the thousands of ideas generated at that day-long event. Shortly thereafter, the city-led effort got merged into the County Commission's "Dialog" process, and, in the opinion of many TulsaNow members, the vision process was hijacked to get an arena tax passed by packing enough pork around it to get a majority of the vote. (TulsaNow did have a strong influence on one project in particular, with several people involved in the Downtowns and Neighborhoods task force.)
Many of us wanted a more strategic plan, a real vision, defined by Glenn Hiemstra as a "compelling description of your preferred future." We wanted to address urban design and land use -- to talk about the issues eventually addressed in the PLANiTULSA process.
Initially, the TulsaNow board voted not to make an endorsement and to express our frustration with the way Vision 2025 was put together, but our founders, who more than anything just wanted Tulsa to pass something somewhat MAPS-ish, pushed successfully to have TulsaNow endorse Vision 2025. (The debate over TulsaNow's Vision 2025 stance led to this email, calling on my fellow board members to be willing to say publicly what they'd been saying privately about the shortcomings with the process and projects.)
After Vision 2025, TulsaNow focused more on urban development issues, co-sponsoring public forums on a variety of issues, and maintaining an online discussion board. TulsaNow put together a grassroots-driven online shopping, dining, services, and entertainment guide for visitors to downtown when the organization paid to promote downtown wasn't doing anything. TulsaNow members were heavily involved in promoting and facilitating the PLANiTULSA development process and supporting the resulting plan through the adoption process. Most recently, TulsaNow spoke up in support of the Pearl District plan for form-based codes. Last fall, the group sponsored a debate on the form of city government with former Tulsa Mayor Rodger Randle and former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys.
While I often disagree with my fellow TulsaNow board members on political issues and on tax packages in particular, I'm very pleased that we're in agreement in opposition to Vision2 and all willing to say so publicly.
MORE: After the August board meeting, TulsaNow issued a brief statement expressing disappointment with the way Vision2 was being put together. That led to a KWGS Studio Tulsa interview with TulsaNow president Scott Grizzle on September 6, 2012, to elaborate on TulsaNow's concerns.
STILL MORE: My UTW column from 2007 explaining what TulsaNow is all about. I described TulsaNow as a kind of "See You at the Pole" -- a rallying point for Tulsans concerned about our city's future.
NOTE: I'll be on the Pat Campbell Show on KFAQ AM 1170 this morning to talk about Vision2.
It's not right for government to use the same project to sell two different taxes to the voters seven years apart. It's double-dipping. But that's exactly what Tulsa County's commissioners appear to be doing with Vision2.
If you have a long memory, you may recall that improvements to the juvenile justice facility (price tag: $2,446,625) were promised to us if we voted for "4 to Fix the County II," a five-year Tulsa County sales tax extension on the December 13, 2005 ballot, which was approved and went into effect on October 1, 2006.
Seven years later, a juvenile justice facility, with a price tag of $38 million, is at the top of Tulsa County's Vision2 wish list.
At their regular September 10, 2012, meeting, the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners voted for a resolution allocating the share of the Vision2 Proposition 2 funds the County Commissioners held back for county government's own wants.
It took me a while to find any version of the resolution on the tulsacounty.org website. I found the minutes of the September 10 meeting which mentions that the resolution passed but doesn't relate its contents. I found the backup file linked to the agenda item -- but it just says there will be a resolution, but doesn't include the resolution itself.
On the September 4 agenda, I found a draft resolution attached to the agenda, but that agenda item was deferred to the following week's meeting. It's entirely possible that the resolution was amended at the September 10 meeting, but for now this is as close as I can find to an official statement of how the Tulsa County Commissioners intend to allocate the $96.5 million they're keeping for county government. (That's my estimate, based on the average of the first eight years of Vision 2025 receipts -- 53,426,185.35 per year average Vision 2025 receipts / 0.6 cents Vision 2025 tax rate) * 13 years * 0.29 cents Vision2 Prop 2 tax rate * 28.74% allocated by Proposition 2's ballot resolution) )
The top item on the list is $38 million for "Acquiring, designing, constructing, improving or rehabilitating installations, buildings, improvements and infrastructure and other capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, in connection with the provision of juvenile detention, justice, rehabilitation and correction facilities, programs and systems."
As news stories at the time attest, the need for an expanded and renovated Juvenile Justice Center was a key selling point for 4 to Fix II in 2005. An endorsement editorial in the Tulsa World (NewsBank link, Tulsa Library card required) summarized 4 to Fix Proposition 1 as follows: "Renovate the Tulsa County Courthouse and provide adequate facilities for the juvenile justice system that operates out of broom closets, $8 million." A story on a poll about the ballot measure offered these descriptions:
Tulsa County voters on Dec. 13 will consider a five-year extension of the two-twelfths of a cent 4 to Fix sales tax. The tax would generate an estimated $62 million for a four-proposition package designed to expand the Juvenile Bureau, make courthouse complex renovations and improve county parks, roads and Expo Square.
Proposition 1 on the ballot would direct $7.79 million to the juvenile justice center and courthouse complex renovations....
Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed in Tulsa County said they approved of Proposition 1 funding for the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, while 25 percent disapproved and 16 percent had no opinion.
In the run-up to the vote, news stories and editorials focused on the need for expanding and improving the District Court's Juvenile Bureau. (Emphasis added.)
Last fiscal year, 5,000 children passed through the 36-year-old Juvenile Bureau complex west of downtown.
Using the most charitable of terms, the building is a disgrace to the justice system -- overstuffed and unsafe, a poor environment for trying to help kids who've run afoul of the law or who've been abandoned or abused by parents or caretakers.
Finally, with the proposed renewal of the "4-to-Fix the County" sales tax, there's hope that the courthouse and Juvenile Bureau will get the attention so desperately needed.
Voters can make that happen Dec. 13 by approving Proposition 1, an $8 million package earmarked for Juvenile Bureau and courthouse expansion....
There's a reason courthouse and Juvenile Bureau improvements are first on the ballot. Expansion is critical to the efficient and safe administration of justice. Funds would produce a four-story addition at the Juvenile Bureau and a build-out of the fourth floor of the courthouse to include new courtrooms. Proposition 1 money also would remodel and expand first-floor misdemeanor and traffic courtrooms and relocate the jury assembly room from the courthouse basement to the county Administration Building.
Judges and the county bar association urged approval. (Emphasis added.)
Tulsa County judges spoke out Monday in favor of the Dec. 13 "4 to Fix the County" election, especially an estimated $7.79 million in improvements it projects for the county's Juvenile Bureau and the downtown courthouse.
Juvenile crime and child neglect have far outpaced the piecemeal improvements that have been made to the 1968-vintage Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau at 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road, the judges say....
The Tulsa County Bar Association also is supporting the effort, President Pat O'Connor said.
The group doesn't typically get involved in such measures, but the court's needs are severe, O'Connor said....
The juvenile bureau would get a four-story addition.
[Sheriff Stanley] Glanz said he considers the criminal justice portion of the 4 to Fix vote to be the most important public safety issue of all the propositions.
The vote to renew the 4 to Fix the County sales tax in December 2005 was voted on almost a year before its scheduled expiration at the end of September 2006.
Four propositions and a question were put before the voters. (Here's a link to the December 13, 2005, Tulsa County sample ballot.)
Here is the text of 4 to Fix II, Proposition 1:
"Shall the County of Tulsa, Oklahoma, by its Board of County Commissioners, levy and collect twelve percent (12.0%) of a two-twelfths percent (2/12%) sales tax for the purpose of funding Juvenile Justice Center and Courthouse Complex renovations, improvements, furnishings and equipment, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County for such purpose, commencing October 1, 2006 and continuing thereafter for a period of five (5) years?"
The ballot resolutions no longer appear to be online and were not captured by the Internet Archive.
The "Do the River First" website listed the 4 to Fix II projects and proposed amounts to be spent on each. Here's the list from Proposition 1.
|Juvenile Crime Bureau||$ 2,446,625|
|Courtrooms - 4th Floor||$ 2,525,000|
|Jury Assembly Room Addition & Remodel Traffic Ct.||$ 2,825,000|
All four propositions were approved on December 13, 2005, and presumably the county now would have the money for the needed renovation and expansion. Surely the county would move full speed ahead to meet this urgent need.
But nothing was done.
A January 31, 2007 update about the project on Tulsa County's "4 to Fix" website:
The construction manager has been selected and the architect's contract has been approved. The project program is being developed for improvements which include a combination of additional building space and remodel of portions of the existing interior now in use.
The project program is being confirmed in order to develop recommendations for the Facility, which may include a combination of additional building space and remodel of portions of the interior.
And then no updates at all until May 28th, 2009:
The architectural selection is complete with Tulsa County selecting Selser Schaefer Architects for the project design.
So two years and two months after "the architect's contract has been approved" we appear to have a new architect selected.
An August 14, 2009, update indicates that the "architectural programming work" is about to get started. A series of updates mentions visits to key facilities in September 2009, a "draft program document and (very) preliminary plans" in November 2009, "final program and preliminary design concepts are expected to be complete in January 2010" as of December 2009, slipping to February in the January update.
The May 2010 the update merely said "The architectural programming work is nearing completion." The June 2010 update said "The architectural programming work is on hold," and there it remained for over a year.
In the midst of that year-and-a-half gap, county officials began to claim that a future "4 to Fix" package would be needed to fund a juvenile justice facility. In an October 2008 op-ed in Urban Tulsa Weekly, County Commissioner Fred Perry used the state of the county's juvenile justice facilities to explain why Tulsa should leave the county's 2/12th cent 4 to Fix sales tax alone, rather than claim it to fund street reconstruction:
By State Law, Tulsa County is responsible for providing the Juvenile Bureau facilities in this county. The existing facilities are exceedingly small and in poor condition. The City of Tulsa has 80 percent of the juveniles in need of supervision, detention, counseling and court space. In the meetings I arranged with the City Councilors, Judge Doris Fransein, the Juvenile District Judge, and Director Brent Wolfe showed the counselors pictures of the present facilities and explained why a new facility was badly needed.
Eventually, the county changed course, redirecting nearly all of the money allocated by 4 to Fix II for an improved juvenile justice center toward merely acquiring land for a new center, patching the old center in the meantime. The July 2011 update:
Tulsa County authorized approximately $2.0 million from these funds to be moved to the County general fund in order to be re-tasked for use in site acquisition for a future new facility. Temporary work at the existing facility is being developed to address required action and improvements by The City of Tulsa. The Fire Marshall is requiring automatic fire suppression be added in the "courts" portion of the facility.
Why didn't the County Commission spring into action as soon as voters approved the funds in December 2005? Why did they wait until construction costs went up? If the allocated amount wasn't enough, why didn't they allocate more in the 4 to Fix II ballot resolutions? Why not claim a share of Vision 2025 surplus money to address this urgent need? Shouldn't safe and secure court facilities for young people be a higher priority than an iconic glass wall for the arena? Shouldn't court facilities be more important than a golf cart barn at LaFortune Park?
But it seems that there is already more money available in the 4 to Fix II fund.
The Funding Report on page 8 of the 4 to Fix the County June 2012 Program Report (original link at 4tofix.info) shows the three line items above under "Criminal Justice Construction Fund" with the above amounts under both the Budgeted and Current Funding columns.
But there's one more line item in that category -- "17 Criminal Justice Construction Fund" -- no budgeted amount, but $4,796,625 in current funding, none of which has been spent. That money, plus Vision 2025 surplus funds, plus any unallocated 4 to Fix II surplus funds, ought to get us very close to sufficient funds for a basic, functional juvenile justice facility. A general obligation bond issue, earmarked for this project only and which expires automatically when the project is complete, could be used to make up any shortfall.
It was irresponsible for the County Commission to let this project fester for years after selling it to the voters as an urgent need. It's downright despicable for them to now ask for more money to do what we gave them money to do seven years ago and to use the project to sell voters on a three-quarter-billion-dollar debt-riddled, pork-filled, corporate-welfare-stuffed boondoggle.
I was out of town, but last Friday, the Tulsa Republican Club had as its speaker a proponent of the Vision2 corporate welfare and pork barrel tax package. At its October meeting, the Tulsa Republican Club will hear from an opponent of the Vision2 package.
A glance through my email inbox shows that this focus on Vision2 is true of all the other Republican clubs as well.
What's wrong with this picture?
Here we are, just a month and a half away from the most consequential federal election since 1980 -- perhaps the most consequential in our lives -- and Tulsa Republican organizations are focused on a local tax package which is opposed by the Tulsa County Republican Party but supported and promoted by the two Republican county commissioners.
With no statewide races and no suspense over who will be Oklahoma's seven presidential electors, Tulsa County's Republicans could be united in working to reclaim the White House and the U. S. Senate and holding on to the U. S. House. And there are some state legislative seats that the GOP needs to defend and some that the GOP could pickup. Here in Tulsa County, House District 71 has had a Democrat representative for only two years of its 48 years of existence, and yet in April, the special election for the seat came down to a single vote and a couple of ballots stuck in a machine.
Imagine Vision2 were not on the ballot. Tulsa County Republican clubs might be teaching Republican activists what they can do, on the phone or in person, to help Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in swing states or to help Republicans in marginal U. S. House and U. S. Senate seats. Tulsa County Republican clubs might be mobilizing their members to defend the 1st District seat (vulnerable because of the incumbent's defeat in the primary), to gain the 2nd District seat (a tall hill to climb), to help Katie Henke win House 71, and to target open seats and vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
Instead, because two Republican Tulsa County Commissioners voted to put a secretly developed, poorly considered, hastily assembled, and divisive tax on the ballot, four years before the current tax expires, Vision2 is starving national and state races of attention and resources. Conservative Republicans in Tulsa County -- the people that got the two commissioners into office in the first place -- have to shift their focus to defeating this lemon of a county tax package rather than helping GOP victory at the national level.
Thanks, John and Fred. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid couldn't have planned a better diversion.
RELATED: Pollster Scott Rasmussen points to the government's role in the economy as the heart of the chasm between the Republican establishment and the grassroots (emphasis added):
Both Romney [with the "47%" quote] and Obama [with his "bitterly clinging to guns and religion" quote] highlighted the condescending attitude that political elites hold of the people they want to rule over. A National Journal survey found that 59 percent of political insiders don't think voters know enough to have meaningful opinions on the important issues of the day. That's a handy rationalization for those who want to ignore the voters and impose their own agenda.
In the nation's capital, this gap creates bigger problems for Republicans than Democrats. Democratic voters tend to think that their representatives in Congress do a decent job representing them. That's because Democrats are a bit more comfortable with the idea of government playing a leading role in American society. However, 63 percent of Republican voters believe their representatives in Washington are out of touch with the party base.
Establishment Republicans in Washington broadly share the Democrats' view that the government should manage the economy. They may favor a somewhat more pro-business set of policies than their Democratic colleagues, but they still act as if government policy is the starting point for all economic activity.
Republican voters reject this view. They are more interested in promoting free market competition rather than handing out favors to big business. They detest corporate welfare and government bailouts, even though their party leaders support them.
The GOP base sees government as a burden that weighs the private sector down rather than a tool that can generate growth if used properly. Ninety-six percent of Republican voters believe that the best thing the government can do to help the economy is to cut spending and free up more money for the private sector.
Mr. Rasmussen, those establishment Republicans aren't just in Washington. You can find them at chambers of commerce, state legislatures, city halls, and county courthouses, too.
Tulsa isn't the only city that would be a fiscal loser if Vision2 is approved by voters in November. A BatesLine analysis of tax revenues has determined that Tulsa County's second-largest city, Broken Arrow, would receive only half as much money under Vision2 as it would if it implemented the same tax as a city sales tax.
Vision2 consists of two ballot propositions to create a combined 0.6% Tulsa County sales tax for 13 years, going into effect on January 1, 2017, just after the Tulsa County Vision 2025 tax expires. Proposition 1 is for facilities and equipment, mainly for American Airlines, plus a "deal closing fund." Under the Vision2 proposal, the City of Broken Arrow would receive 12.19% of the revenues of the Proposition 2 0.29% county sales tax over 13 years to spend on a list of "quality of life" capital improvements to be approved by the Tulsa County Commission. News stories report this amount as $44.1 million. BatesLine estimates Vision2 would send $40.9 million to Broken Arrow, based on average county sales tax receipts over the 8 years from March 2004 to February 2012.
But what if, instead of Vision2, Broken Arrow voters were to institute a city sales tax of 0.6% over 13 years -- same term, same percentage, same starting date? Based on the last year of Broken Arrow city sales tax receipts, BatesLine estimates that a BA-specific tax would raise $88,362,196.96 that could be used for City of Broken Arrow capital improvements, without any need to get the County Commission's permission. That's twice as much as BA would receive from the Vision2 tax.
Here are the Broken Arrow sales tax receipts from the most recent 12 reports from the Oklahoma Tax Commission. The city sales tax rate throughout the period has been 3%:
Aug-12 $3,338,726.34 3%
Jul-12 $3,055,434.53 3%
Jun-12 $2,709,917.18 3%
May-12 $2,824,542.95 3%
Apr-12 $2,656,149.37 3%
Mar-12 $2,594,508.45 3%
Feb-12 $3,108,913.42 3%
Jan-12 $2,862,828.89 3%
Dec-11 $2,700,081.39 3%
Nov-11 $2,642,006.57 3%
Oct-11 $2,828,791.10 3%
Sep-11 $2,663,560.18 3%
Total for last 12 months: $33,985,460.37
Per penny of sales tax per year: $11,328,486.79
Sales tax per penny per year * 0.6 cents * 13 yrs: $88,362,196.96
Broken Arrow is a growing city and a need to expand and improve basic infrastructure to accommodate that growth. By supporting Vision2, Broken Arrow business and political leaders are cheating Broken Arrow residents out of $44 million in potential improvements. Did they not do the math? Are they being offered something under the table in exchange for their support? There were rumors that Tulsa ceded the Bass Pro Store to BA in exchange for BA's acquiescence on downtown Tulsa as site of the Vision 2025 funded arena. Is that sort of deal in the works for Vision2?
Broken Arrow voters have a compelling reason to defeat the Vision2 tax in November and a compelling reason to replace the City Council and Chamber mis-leaders who have endorsed this bad deal for their city.
Tonight, Friday, August 31, 2012, the City of Tulsa will host a Vision2 public meeting from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at TCC Northeast Campus, Seminar Center, 3727 E. Apache St.
As I said earlier this week, the Mayor should be asked why he's willing to leave $153 million on the table by allowing the county to pass a new 0.6 cent tax, rather than trying to put that revenue stream under city control when the Vision 2025 county sales tax expires.
He also needs to be asked about a statement made by County Commissioner Fred Perry in a Tulsa Beacon op-ed (emphasis added):
The fact is, while no one can guarantee that the [American Airlines] jobs will stay, it's a sure thing they will leave if we don't, as their landlord, make the planned improvements which will be owned by taxpayers.... I became convinced, as had people in the business community previously, that if we don't make these improvements the jobs will go elsewhere.
Is this certain? Has American Airlines threatened to close the Tulsa maintenance facility if we don't make these improvements? Surely any such communications ought to be made public.
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr is holding the first in a series of Vision2 public forums tonight (August 27, 2012, Webster High School, 5:30 to 7:30 pm) to ask what projects should be funded with the money the county would <sarcasm>graciously</sarcasm> allow the city to have. Never mind that no public forums were held before the Tulsa County Commission decided to put the three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars sales tax extension on the November ballot.
Tulsa voters should ask the mayor why any Tulsan should support a Tulsa County scheme that shorts our city $153 million in funds for roads, parks, and other capital projects, a scheme that gives another government body a say in city-owned airport properties, a scheme that gives the Tulsa County Commission veto power over the City of Tulsa's list of projects.
I've put together a simple chart (PDF format) comparing the Tulsa County Commission's Vision2 tax scheme with a plan that spends the City of Tulsa's money to implement the City of Tulsa's vision. You may find it helpful to print out and share with His Honor and His Honor's staffers this evening as you ask him why he's backing a plan that puts the City of Tulsa at such a significant disadvantage. (More here on the math behind the numbers on the chart -- why the City of Tulsa would be better off going it alone and taking over the Vision 2025 0.6 cent tax as a city tax when the Vision 2025 tax expires at the end of 2016.)
I've been told that my name has been mentioned in connection with the decision of the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee to censure County Commissioners John Smaligo and Fred Perry for their vote to put the Vision2 sales tax on the ballot for November. For the moment, a few disconnected thoughts will have to suffice:
1. I attended the meeting as a precinct chairman and thus as a member of the County Committee, not as a blogger or member of the media. This is why I didn't live-blog or live-tweet the proceedings and haven't written about what individuals said during debate or how they voted. A county committee meeting is not the kind of semi-public event that a party convention is. The press wasn't invited to attend.
2. I was asked by Vice Chairman Mike McCutchin to hold off on publishing anything about the resolution and the censure until the chairman issued an official press release, and I have done so.
3. There was unanimity in opposition to the Vision2 proposal. The debate was over what should be said in a resolution. I argued against one proposal (brought forward by Greg Hill, not "Gary Hill" as the Whirled story had it), which would have incorporated my blog entry that compared Vision2 to President Obama's policies. I argued that language appropriate to an individual expressing his own opinion might not be appropriate to a statement coming from the party as a body. Someone else pointed out that liberal Democrats have often joined conservative Republicans in opposing local sales tax increases, and the term ObamaVision may give unnecessary offense and hinder an alliance to defeat the tax. Greg Hill's proposal was never actually moved for consideration (another error in the Whirled story; to move things along, I moved for adoption of Ronda Vuillemont-Smith's shorter, simpler resolution.
4. Support for censure was overwhelming; there were only three votes against. The topic came up during the debate over the resolution opposing Vision2, and after some back and forth there was a consensus that any censure should be a separate matter, not part of the resolution addressing Vision2.
5. Yes, I made the motion for censure, but I wouldn't have bothered had there not already been a strong consensus in support of the idea, as voiced during the debate on the resolution. I don't recall there being much debate on censure -- people were either for it or against it. I certainly didn't have to twist any arms.
6. Putting a tax on the ballot is not a neutral act, as Commissioners Smaligo and Perry would like you to believe. I don't recall either of them ever putting forward a ballot measure to cut TCC's millage rate or end the Vision 2025 sales tax as soon as sufficient reserves exist to meet all outstanding obligations, although both ideas are worthy of discussion. They haven't given us a choice between spending three-quarters of a billion dollars on Vision2 vs. a short-term G. O. bond issue to, say, rebuild the levees. No, they picked one particular proposal -- a particularly bad proposal, vague, hastily assembled, and packed with corporate welfare and pork barrel, heavy laden with interest and fees -- to put before voters, and they blocked any alternative from coming before us. They've only given us a yes or no option. They have therefore endorsed this proposal by putting it on the ballot.
7. Furthermore -- and this is what makes their vote particularly deserving of censure -- this is now the second time that they have forced the grassroots fiscal conservative Republicans who got them elected to spend their personal time and treasure trying to counter a "vote yes" campaign with hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on ads and consultants.
I remember primary runoff night in 2006, standing in Fred Perry's living room and looking around at all the conservative activists who had volunteered for Fred. These same people had worked hard to defeat previous tax increases, and they supported Fred for County Commission because they believed he was a limited-government, low-tax, free market conservative who would fight to reign in the growth of county government and oppose new taxes.
Instead, Perry and Smaligo voted to put the river tax on the ballot -- a flawed plan that would have raised the overall rate of sales tax. (Yes, Mr. Smaligo, you have indeed voted for a tax increase.) I suspect at least 90% of the people in that room that night would now express disappointment with Fred Perry, and I suspect that many of John Smaligo's supporters from 2006 feel the same way. Now they've put a second tax on the ballot, and for conservative Republicans it's another slap in the face. Once may be forgivable; twice is not.
8. This Republican county platform took a clear stand in opposition to renewing the Four to Fix the County sales tax. No one dreamed that they'd come after Vision 2025 renewal more than four years before it's set to expire, or I'm certain that a plank opposing Vision 2025 extension would have passed overwhelmingly.
9. To those who think the parties should remain silent on this issue, I agree that this isn't a Republican v. Democrat issue. But the Vision2 proposal violates Republican free market and limited-government principles which are clearly outlined in the party platform, so it's appropriate for Republican activist leaders to oppose it on principle. We don't approve of stimulus packages and bailouts at the Federal level; why should support them on a local level? Liberal Democrats may also conclude that the proposal violates some of their key principles -- for example, the use of a regressive sales tax to funnel money to politically connected companies should be anathema to consistent liberals and conservatives alike, if for somewhat different reasons. I would hope that consistent progressive Democrats would push their party to take a stand opposing Vision2 as well.
10. To the Whirled commenter who accuses me of hypocrisy: I left that company seven years ago for better opportunities, long before Broken Arrow offered to help fund their new facility. I don't live in that city, so I'll leave it to the people of Broken Arrow to judge whether this was an appropriate use of tax dollars.
TULSA COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY PRESS RELEASE
Members of the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee met on Saturday, August 18, 2012 and adopted a resolution calling for the defeat of the Vision2 county sales tax propositions on the November ballot and opposing any use of Vision 2025 funds to support, promote, or fund Vision2.
The County Committee is the governing body of the Tulsa County Republican Party, consisting of all Republican precinct chairmen and vice-chairmen, who are elected at precinct meetings every two years.
The resolution expresses opposition to government intervention in the private sector, the amount of debt to be incurred, the cost of that debt in interest and fees, the 13-year length of the proposed tax, and the effective surrender of city-owned assets to county control. Below is the text of the resolution:
Resolution Opposing Passage of Vision2 Tax Proposal
Adopted by the Tulsa County Republican County Committee
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Whereas, the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee believes in limited government and less taxes, and
Whereas, the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee believes government intervention into private businesses as demonstrated in the GM bailout is wrong and not the best use of tax dollars, and
Whereas, the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee believes it is bad policy for any level of government to go into debt, and
Whereas, the proposed Vision2 tax in Tulsa County would cost Tulsa County taxpayers $748.8 million in new taxes, and
Whereas, the proposed Vision2 tax would extend the existing Vision 2025 tax from expiring in 2017 to expiring in 2029, and
Whereas, a major portion of the Vision2 tax is to improve three facilities at the Tulsa International Airport and to create a $52.9 million "closing fund", and
Whereas, most businesses in Tulsa County will be disadvantaged by this tax as they will not be given any influx of taxpayer dollars to support their business yet some will be competing directly with these few tax supported businesses, and
Whereas, over $90 million of the tax dollars will be spent on interest and bond costs, and
Whereas, the cities of Tulsa County should not surrender control of city assets to a county government,
Therefore, be it resolved the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee does not support the passage of the Vision2 tax package and urges all Tulsa County voters to oppose these ballot initiatives on November 6, 2012, and
Therefore, be it resolved no Vision 2025 funds shall be used to support, promote or fund Vision2.
This is approved by members of the Tulsa County Republican Party County Committee on this 18th day of August, 2012.
In addition to adopting the above resolution opposing the Vision2 county sales tax, the members of the County Committee voted to censure Republican County Commissioners John Smaligo and Fred Perry for voting to place the Vision2 sales tax propositions on the ballot.
The Tulsa County Republican Party Platform states:
- We support reductions, when feasible, of both taxes and government spending as a general rule of government.
- We oppose any tax increase without demonstrated public need.
Smaller, limited government and lower taxes are a foundation principal of the Republican Party. The Vision2 tax package fully goes against the very principles on which fiscal conservative Republicans stand for.
Point of contact for this press release is:
J.B. Alexander, Chairman
A possible response to my earlier entry, Vision2 share vs. Tulsa County municipality population, is that it doesn't count the money in Proposition 1 to improve city-owned facilities and to provide "equipment and fixtures and other capital improvements" for businesses in the "Airport Industrial Complex" as part of Tulsa's share.
Even if that were a wise way to spend $254 million -- and it's not -- the City of Tulsa and its citizens would be far better off financially if the City opposed the Vision2 county tax and raised the city sales tax by the same amount.
There's precedent for the idea: Way back in 2008, when we were debating different approaches to fixing our streets, Councilor Bill Martinson proposed that the city take over county sales tax streams as they expired -- adding two-twelfths of a cent when the County's "4 to Fix the County, Part II" tax expired in 2011, and adding 0.6% when the County's Vision 2025 tax expired at the end of 2016. The overall sales tax would remain the same at 8.517%, but most of the county's share would be shifted to pay for city capital improvements that directly affect our quality of life. The plan ultimately adopted by the City Council and the voters captured the "4 to Fix" 2/12ths, but left the Vision 2025 tax untouched.
Over the last 12 months, the City of Tulsa has collected about $71 million per penny of sales tax revenue. Over 13 years at that level of sales tax collection, the 0.6% sales tax under discussion would generate $553.8 million in revenue for the City of Tulsa. Deduct the $254 million AA bailout from that number, and there'd still be almost $300 million that the City of Tulsa could spend on the priorities in its capital improvements process. Better still, that money would be spent under the tighter competitive bidding laws that apply to the city and the city's more transparent approach to picking projects for capital improvements sales tax packages, a process that has its roots in the Inhofe mayoralty and the original 3rd Penny.
So under the Vision2 plan adopted by the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, the City of Tulsa would get a $400 million share -- if you count the American Airlines bailout in that amount. If instead the City of Tulsa adopted its own 0.6%, 13 year sales tax, the City of Tulsa would get $553.8 million. For the same overall sales tax level, City of Tulsa would be better off by $153.8 million, a nearly 40% increase in money available for capital improvements.
I can't imagine any rational, honest reason for any City of Tulsa official to go along with Tulsa County's sales tax scheme.
AND ANOTHER THING: Under the Tulsa County Vision2 scheme, the City of Tulsa has to get the County Commission's approval on how the city spends it's share of the Proposition 2 municipal pork barrel bribery fund.
Projects shall be identified by the governing body of each Political Subdivision following public hearing and input of public comment, in such form and process as determined by such governing body, and shall be submitted to the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma to determine whether the sales tax collected pursuant to this Resolution may be properly expended for such Project.
The table below compares each Tulsa County municipality's share of the proposed Proposition 2 sales tax -- 0.29% for 13 years -- with the municipality's share of Tulsa County's population. The figures, from the 2010 U. S. Census, include only the population of each city within Tulsa County (all but three of Tulsa County's municipalities overlap into surrounding counties). The population figure for Tulsa County is for the area of the county not within any municipality -- it's a pretty small percentage.
If you're wondering about Sapulpa: The seat of Creek County annexed the area along I-44 just east of the eastern terminus of the Turner Turnpike. Not many people live there, but there are stores, fast food restaurants, and motels. So Sapulpa gets the city sales tax for the retail development at Tulsa's western gateway.
|Political Subdivision||Percentage of Sales Tax Political Subdivision Allocated to Projects of Political Subdivision||Percentage of Tulsa County Population
|City of Tulsa||43.63%||63.91%
|City of Bixby||3.13%||3.43%
|City of Broken Arrow||12.19%||13.36%
|City of Collinsville||0.85%||0.93%
|City of Glenpool||1.63%||1.79%
|City of Jenks||2.56%||2.80%
|City of Owasso||3.98%||4.36%
|City of Sand Springs||2.79%||3.07%
|Town of Skiatook||0.32%||0.35%
|Town of Sperry||0.18%||0.20%
|Liberty, Sapulpa, Mannford, Lotsee
The Tulsa County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday morning, to the disappointment of many and the surprise of none, to put a 13-year sales tax extension on the ballot this coming November, more than four years before the tax is scheduled to expire. The package is being called Vision2 by its supporters. I call it ObamaVision for reasons described in a previous entry. The tax plan is a sort of Keynesian stimulus, much like the Obama stimulus package, borrowing today against future revenues to spend now.
The proposed taxes will last for 13 years without any provision for early termination. They will go into effect just as the Vision 2025 taxes expire at midnight on December 31, 2016 - January 1, 2017. Note that the resolutions leave certain expenses undefined, such as the amount of revenue that will pay debt service and bond fees, the amount of money in the Economic Development Slush Fund. The current Vision 2025 sales tax fund has raised an average of $53,426,185.35 per year over the first eight years of collections. Assuming no growth, Vision2 Proposition 1 would raise about $359 million, leaving over $100 million for debt service and Slush Fund. Proposition 2, the strings-attached bribe fund for the municipalities would raise about $335 million, again assuming no growth.
Tulsa would be a donor city under the scheme. Based on the last 12 months of tax revenue, the City of Tulsa collects a little over $71 million for each penny of sales tax. If the City of Tulsa were to impose its own 0.29% tax, it would collect about $268 million over 13 years. Under the county tax scheme, the City of Tulsa would only receive about $146 million (43.63% of $335 million), about 54% of what it could collect on its own at the same tax rate over the same period.
Below are direct links to the ballot resolutions on the county website. The ballot resolutions define the language that will appear on the ballot and any constraints on how the taxes received can be spent. While much of the text of the resolutions is boilerplate, Section 1 defines what will appear on the ballot, Section 4 defines the amount of tax increase, Section 5 defines the period for collecting the tax, Section 6 defines the rebate, and Section 8 defines how the money is to be spent.
Ballot Resolution for Vision2 Proposition No. 1: American Airlines Bailout, Economic Development Slush Fund
Ballot Resolution for Vision2 Proposition No. 2: Bribes for the cities (with strings attached)
And here is a summary of each, with the text of Section 8:
Proposition No. 1:
0.310% sales tax, collected 1/1/2017 - 12/31/2029 for "promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma."
Section 8. It is hereby declared to be the purpose of this Resolution to provide revenue for the purpose of promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County for such purpose, including the following projects:
Acquiring, constructing, improving or rehabilitating installations, buildings, improvements and infrastructure and other capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma or a public trust or trusts formed for the benefit of either or both, for use by industrial or commercial concerns on locations in and around the Tulsa International Airport Industrial Complex.
Not to exceed $122,000,000.00
Acquiring, delivering and installing of equipment and fixtures and other capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma or a public trust or trusts formed for the benefit of either or both, for use by industrial or commercial concerns on locations in and around the Tulsa International Airport Industrial Complex.
Not to exceed $132,000,000.00
All sales tax revenues in excess of the amounts necessary to complete the above listed projects (not to exceed $254,000,000.00 in total) plus any advance funding costs associated therewith shall be used to fund land, buildings, infrastructure and other capital improvements for the purpose of promoting economic development within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, including funding job creation programs, as determined by a public trust having Tulsa County, Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the City of Bixby, Oklahoma, the City of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the City of Collinsville, Oklahoma, the City of Glenpool, Oklahoma, the City of Jenks, Oklahoma, the City of Owasso, Oklahoma, the City of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, the Town of Skiatook, Oklahoma and the Town of Sperry, Oklahoma, as its beneficiaries. Such public trust shall have seven trustees consisting of, ex-officio, the three members of the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and the Mayor of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and three members each of whom shall be at the time of appointment the Mayor of a municipality, other than the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, located in whole or in part in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, appointed by the presiding officer of the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, and confirmed by a majority of the persons who constitute the governing body of Tulsa County, Oklahoma. In the expenditure of all funds hereunder, preference shall be given to local vendors and contractors to the extent permitted by law. In addition, such public trust shall approve any deletion or addition of projects from those listed above and any major change in scope, following a public hearing by such trust.
Proposition No. 2:
0.290% sales tax, collected 1/1/2017 - 12/31/2029 for "purpose of acquiring, constructing, furnishing and equipping capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, incorporated municipalities located in whole or in part within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the State of Oklahoma or any instrumentality thereof."
Section 8. It is hereby declared to be the purpose of this Resolution to provide revenue for the purpose of, acquiring, constructing, furnishing and equipping capital improvements to be owned by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, incorporated municipalities located in whole or in part within Tulsa County, Oklahoma, or the State of Oklahoma or any instrumentality thereof, and/or to be applied or pledged toward the payment of principal and interest on any indebtedness, including refunding indebtedness, incurred by or on behalf of Tulsa County or incorporated municipalities located in whole or in part within Tulsa County, Oklahoma for such purpose. All sales tax revenues received shall be used for such purpose, as determined by the following provisions:
"Capital Improvements" as used herein shall mean all items and articles, either new or replacements, not consumed with use but only diminished in value with prolonged use, including but not limited to, the purchase, lease or rental of machinery, equipment, traffic control devices and street lighting systems, furniture and fixtures; the acquisition of all real properties; the construction, reconstruction and repair of buildings, appurtenances and improvements to real property; the construction, reconstruction and repair of roads, highways, streets, alleys, overpasses, underpasses, bridges, trails, sidewalks, and other public ways, including the acquisition of rights-of-way and other real property necessary for such construction; the construction, reconstruction and repair of water systems and facilities, sanitary and storm sewer systems and facilities, drainage improvements, data transmission or processing systems and facilities, and communications systems and facilities, including the acquisition of rights-of-way and other real property necessary for such construction; the costs and expenses related to the aforesaid including, design, engineering, architectural, real property or legal fees.
Sales taxes actually collected shall be used for projects for Tulsa County, Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the City of Bixby, Oklahoma, the City of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the City of Collinsville, Oklahoma, the City of Glenpool, Oklahoma, the City of Jenks, Oklahoma, the City of Owasso, Oklahoma, the City of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, the Town of Skiatook, Oklahoma and the Town of Sperry, Oklahoma (collectively the "Political Subdivisions") based upon the following percentages of sales tax actually collected:
Political Subdivision Percentage of Sales Tax Political Subdivision Allocated to Projects of Political Subdivision Tulsa County 28.74% City of Tulsa 43.63% City of Bixby 3.13% City of Broken Arrow 12.19% City of Collinsville .85% City of Glenpool 1.63% City of Jenks 2.56% City of Owasso 3.98% City of Sand Springs 2.79% Town of Skiatook .32% Town of Sperry .18% Total 100.00%
Projects shall be identified by the governing body of each Political Subdivision following public hearing and input of public comment, in such form and process as determined by such governing body, and shall be submitted to the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma to determine whether the sales tax collected pursuant to this Resolution may be properly expended for such Project. Any advance funding costs associated with funding a Project prior to the date a sufficient amount of sales taxes is collected for such Project shall be paid by the Political Subdivision from other funds, or shall be paid from such Political Subdivision's allocation of sales tax in such amounts and proportions as determined by the Board of County Commissioners of Tulsa County, Oklahoma.
A clique of corporate welfare queens and pork barrel princes today announced a plan to bring Barack Obama's proven* economic development strategies to Tulsa County.
The $747.9 million borrow, spend, and tax ObamaVision plan embraces five central principles of Obamanomics:
(1) Use government spending to stimulate economic development, because government knows best. And we've seen what Obama's stimulus has done for unemployment.
(2) Saddle our kids with debt: The proposal would have the county borrow money now against pledges of sales tax revenues starting five years from now and continuing from 2017 to 2029. If we get to 2017 and need money for a higher priority, we'll just borrow against revenues starting in 2030.
(3) Use tax dollars to subsidize bankrupt companies in failing industries. Don't diversify your economy -- double down!
(4) Spread the wealth around: Take money away from taxpayers and their personal priorities and give it to politically connected construction companies. Take money that would have been available for cities to tax for city priorities, take a cut of it, then give some of it back to the cities with strings attached. From each according to his ability, to each according to his greed.
(5) Let politicians pick winners and losers in the private sector: A committee of politicians will decide how to spend a $50 million slush fund to subsidize private business. They'll use the same economic judgment that brought us Solyndra and Great Plains Airlines, both typical examples of what happens when government gets involved in the private sector.
The key objectives of the proposal: (1) Give politicians a chance to claim they're doing something to improve the economy. (2) Allow politically connected special interests to get a share of the money. The group rejected the free market approach of lowering taxes and improving the general business climate because the free market approach doesn't let politicians take credit for jobs and it doesn't allow the Chamber, bond advisers and bond brokers, construction and program management companies to "wet their beaks."
Republican primary voters in Kansas got rid of corporate-welfare backers earlier this week, with the help of the local branch of Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which prefers encouraging a healthy business climate for everyone, rather than shoveling subsidies at a favored few companies. Here in Oklahoma, however, the Tulsa Metro Chamber will continue to support corporate welfare, cronyism, and pork barrel spending, and Republican political consultants, pollsters, and PR firms will line up at the trough -- the chance to work for the vote yes campaign.
* Proven not to work.
Just as they did in 2003, Tulsa "leaders" are preying on anxieties about job losses to justify siphoning more of your tax dollars through county government to favored businesses. Two possibilities are being discussed to raise $340 million: Either a county-wide sales tax increase of 0.4 percent or an extension of the Vision 2025 0.6 percent county sales tax beyond its December 31, 2016, expiration date. The proposal would include $260 million for airport infrastructure improvements and $80 million for a "close the deal fund" -- money we could throw at businesses to convince them to relocate to Tulsa. It all amounts to corporate welfare, with government picking winners and losers, rather than creating a favorable environment in which any business could flourish. (NOTE: More recent reports specify the number as $254 million for airport infrastructure improvements and $75 million for the slush fund, for a total of $329 million.)
The proposal is the wrong approach to economic development, the wrong method to finance it, and the wrong body to oversee it.
They're calling this idea "Vision for Jobs" but that's what Vision 2025 was supposed to be. In 2003, we were told that the Vision 2025 tax would fix our economy, in a slump after the tech and telecom crash of the early 2000s. Evidently, it didn't work, or they wouldn't be asking for more money now. Rather than allowing that $340 million to circulate freely in the local economy, rather than encouraging diversification of the economy, the civic leaders that brought us the Great Plains Airlines disaster want to put an even bigger bet on commercial aviation, a struggling sector of the national economy.
Our Republican County Commissioners ought to be pouring cold water on the idea. That they seem to be seriously entertaining it might lead a cynic to suspect this is a grab by Tulsa County officials to keep the money flowing through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority to its favored vendors -- bond attorneys, bond advisers, bond underwriters, program management firms, construction companies. Vision 2025 is coming to an end in 2016, and in order for the County Commissioners to continue to manage hundreds of millions of dollars, they urgently need to find another pretext for keeping the bucks flowing. American Airlines's Chapter 11 bankruptcy came along at a convenient time.
County Commission Chairman John Smaligo was on KFAQ's Pat Campbell Show Wednesday morning supporting the notion of a Vision 2025 sales tax extension.
Local government can't pull American Airlines out of bankruptcy. It's like trying to put out the sun with a squirt gun. The airline's problems are rooted in labor agreements made when times were fat and in a particular Clinton administration decision in 1993 that undermined AA's leverage to deal with excessive union demands. The airline's survival depends solely on its success in restructuring its costs with the cooperation of its creditors and its unions. Assuming it does survive, AA has a huge investment in buildings, equipment, and -- most importantly -- skilled personnel in Tulsa that it wouldn't be likely to abandon.
And if they decide to go, notwithstanding that investment, plus the state and local subsidies American Airlines has already received ($22.3 million from Vision 2025, plus state Quality Jobs Act tax credits, among others), no amount of additional subsidy will keep them here.
Wichita, Kansas, found that out earlier this year. The World Trade Organization identified $475.8 million dollars in subsidies from Wichita to Boeing, in addition to uncountable withholding tax exemptions, property tax exemptions, and sales tax exemptions. Kansas federal legislators expended a great deal of political capital to help Boeing land the contract to build the KC-46, the US Air Force's next generation aerial refueling tanker, with the expectation that Boeing would bring 7,500 new jobs to the state. For all that public assistance, Boeing announced in January that it was completely abandoning Wichita and Kansas, taking 2,100 jobs -- a net loss of nearly 10,000 jobs, not counting supplier jobs lost. (Here is the home page for the WTO case dealing with Boeing's subsidies.)
There's some question about how much of the proposed $340 million would even go to help American Airlines with its specific needs. News stories hint that some of the money would be used for Tulsa's World War II era Air Force Plant No. 3. And I haven't seen this mentioned in connection with the proposed tax, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of it is earmarked for the multimodal facility discussed earlier this year in connection with transferring city property around Gilcrease Museum to TU. And of course there's that $80 million in walking-around money.
That brings us to the matter of oversight. If past history is a guide, the revenues from a county sales tax would be run through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, which would issue revenue bonds to finance projects. The TCIA is a trust created under state law whose board consists of the three County Commissioners. As a trust, the TCIA isn't bound by some of the legal strictures that apply to county government.
We ought to be very skeptical of giving more tax money to the TCIA to handle. Few local government bodies are less accountable to the public than the TCIA. They do not competitively bid their bond contracts. Vague agendas for the TCIA's meetings are posted online (here's the latest example), without detailed backup information; meeting minutes are not posted online. (Correction 2012/08/09: I am informed by Commissioner Fred Perry that meeting minutes are online. They're in a separate section of the website from the agendas. They are, however, as vague as the agendas.)
The TCIA lends tax-exempt bond money to private organizations -- over $679 million in outstanding conduit debt as of June 30, 2011 -- but you won't find a list of borrowers or repayment terms on the county's website. You will find, if you go to a bond rating site like moodys.com, that the TCIA has lent money to Saint Francis Health System (over $200 million), St John, Hillcrest, Holland Hall School, University of Tulsa, and a variety of private real estate development deals. The TCIA is able to lend money to private corporations on more favorable terms than the commercial market because the bonds they sell are tax-exempt.
(More links mentioning TCIA's lending to private entities: Summary of Standard and Poor's report on TCIA Saint Francis bonds and an EDGAR filing of an investment fund that has TCIA Saint Francis bonds in its portfolio.)
(Here is the Tulsa County 2011-2012 Budget Book and the Tulsa County Industrial Authority 2011 Audit. I couldn't find any specifics in these documents about the recipients of conduit loans, just the aggregate amount of conduit debt owed by TCIA.)
A couple of those real estate deals involved John Piercey, a close friend of then-County Commissioner Bob Dick, who also has served as the TCIA's bond adviser. The Tulsa World reported in 2002 that the TCIA lent Piercey's company $15 million to buy and rehabilitate several apartment complexes, then five years later lent an
out-of-state entity $30 million to buy and rehabilitate the same complexes from Piercey's company. Perhaps this sort of lending went away as that generation of county commissioners left office, but there's still not enough specific data online about the TCIA's operations to know. (CORRECTED: The time between the two transactions was five years, not 15 years.)
And speaking of transparency, it's a bad sign that, in his interview with Smaligo, Pat Campbell had to rely upon a leaked report provided by a source wishing to remain anonymous in order to know that a $40 million surplus was projected for the Vision 2025 sales tax. Shouldn't we be able to see projected revenues, outstanding debt and outstanding obligations at a glance on the official Tulsa County website?
In 2007, when I tried to find out the projected Vision 2025 surplus, and whether it might be sufficient to finance the Arkansas River dams promised as part of that package, I was shuffled from one county office to another only to find that no sworn county official had that information. Instead, the information was provided by the aforementioned Mr. Piercey, who was by then not under contract to the county, but described himself 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."
Campbell's interview with Smaligo contained another fascinating bit of information: When Tulsa was allocated, by the Tulsa County Vision Authority, $45.5 million extra to pay for the super-deluxe-iconic version of the arena, the other Tulsa County municipalities demanded and were promised the chance to split up any Vision 2025 surplus amongst themselves, since the arena was considered a project for the benefit only of the City of Tulsa. So effectively, the arena overrun cost Tulsa County taxpayers $85.5 million that could have been paid for the low-water dams promised as part of Vision 2025.
Tulsa International Airport is a city-owned facility. If it were appropriate to do anything with tax dollars to improve the airport, it should be done by the City of Tulsa and by its Tulsa Airport Improvements Trust, using revenues generated by airport tenants. Even then, such improvements ought to be of general benefit to current and future passengers, tenants, commercial and general aviation, and not specific to any business.
The proposed "Vision for Jobs" is the wrong tax under the wrong supervision to fund an outdated and discredited economic development strategy. I was heartened to read that polling showed the proposal likely to fail at the polls in November. Fiscal conservatives, opponents of crony capitalism, and opponents of regressive taxation should be able to join together to shut this down before it gets on a ballot.
The TEA Party folks say they're Taxed Enough Already, but several of them who might have run against a Democrat Tulsa County Commissioner (with plans to raise our county sales taxes once again) opted instead to run against Republican legislative incumbents who are working to reduce our state income tax burden. Oh, well.
The announcement waited until Commissioner Karen Keith was safely re-elected without opposition: The Tulsa Metro Chamber's "enVision Summit," to be held at Expo Square Central Park Hall, on April 27, 2012, 8:30 to noon, when normal people are at work.
They say they have no preset agenda, but prominent mention of visits to Indianapolis and Louisville, the announcement of a former Nashville mayor as speaker, and a quote from one of the organizers saying "we are much stronger and can have greater impact if we operate as a region versus our independent cities and towns" suggests they plan to push for regional government and the end to the self-determination of those independent cities and towns.
Indianapolis, Louisville, and Nashville don't just have "cooperation" between local governments -- all three have merged city and county governments into a single entity.
And of course, they are already looking for a list of boondoggles they can use to justify a new Vision 2025 county sales tax, to keep the money flowing through the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) and to its favored vendors.
Keith and Frank also said it is time to begin the discussion of life after Vision 2025, a county sales tax that ends in 2017 and has funded $530 million in area projects. What does an extension of a Vision initiative look like?
In 2003, they told us we had to "do something." Although the economy recovered long before the Vision 2025 projects were complete, we're to believe that Vision 2025 caused the recovery, which coincidentally happened everywhere else in the US at the same time. And of course, we're supposed to believe that the arena (voted for in 2003, opened in 2008) caused the Blue Dome District to start revitalizing in 2000.
We spent a half-billion dollars to "revitalize our region" and now they say we need to start planning to spend even more to "invigorate" our region. If you need to keep shocking a body back to life, at some point you have to acknowledge that it's actually dead, and "it wouldn't voom if you put 4000 volts through it."
In 2000 they told us they needed money to "fix" the county. In 2006 they needed even more money to "fix" the county. Either the county is fixed, and they don't need any more money, or they money we gave them didn't really fix anything, and the fix is in.
If city officials around the region really care about the good of the municipalities they're elected to represent, they need to show up on April 27 and tell the county to back off. Every penny the county takes for its pork barrel projects is a penny unavailable for each city and town to set its own priorities. This initiative is a threat to cities and towns having the means to fund basic services and infrastructure.
I would guess that Broken Arrow residents like spending their own sales tax dollars to fix their own streets and fund their own police department. I would further guess they'd be upset if Tulsa Money Belt types had the political means to redirect public funding from Broken Arrow's "parochial concerns" (driveable streets, low crime rate, pools open and parks mowed) to the Tulsa Money Belt's preferred projects.
If BA's council and other municipal officials ignore the real threat this initiative poses to local self-determination now, before it gets off the ground, they may find themselves in a year or two trying in vain to stop the idea once it gets buy-in from everyone who can make money or accrue power from consolidation. The only way to stop this foolishness is to follow Barney Fife's advice: Nip it in the bud.
Tulsa's city officials should take this seriously, too: City of Tulsa tax dollars are funding the Tulsa Metro Chamber, and the Chamber is turning around and spending money to promote a plan that would undermine the City of Tulsa's ability to fund local government and infrastructure. Money, don't forget, is fungible.
Maybe the TEA Partiers will stop searching the skies for black helicopters long enough to notice this local grab for taxes and power. I love what you say you stand for -- limited government, free enterprise, individual responsibility, local autonomy. The question is whether you'll stand up for those ideals when and where it really matters.
And wouldn't it be nice if Tulsa County Commissioners would content themselves to paving county roads, managing the finances of basic county government, and keeping their doggone hands out of our pockets?
(POWER GRAB parody image found here.)