Tulsa Vision2: September 2012 Archives

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-logo.pngTulsaNow 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.

December 24, 2007 update:

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Vision2 category from September 2012.

Tulsa Vision2: August 2012 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Vision2: October 2012 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



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