Tulsa::Vision2025: August 2003 Archives

An observant reader sent along an insightful opinion column from the Whirled archives. The writer of the column cites experts and studies showing that big corporate bribes, like the proposed cash payment and zero-interest loan to Boeing, don't pay off for cities.

This writer believes that over $100,000 per job is "out of hand". I wonder what he would think of $350,000 per job that we're offering to Boeing.

He doesn't pussyfoot around -- he calls these payments "bribes". And he quotes various studies that show that these bribes don't have any positive economic impact, but instead hurts the cities and states that play this game.

The writer rightly praises Oklahoma's Quality Jobs Program, which evenhandedly rewards companies for actual job creation. And he is correct to say that building a sound economy is a long process, not an event, a process that flows out of the health of the community. Our community was attractive enough to attract Whirlpool -- and since Whirlpool came, Tulsa County residents have invested well over $1 billion dollars in capital improvements, including improvements to our schools, higher education facilities, and civic amenities like libraries, the Performing Arts Center, the Zoo, Gilcrease, parks, trails, and the Convention Center.

This is a rich mine of quotes -- I've highlighted my favorites in boldface. Note that Micron was playing the field in 1995 the way Boeing is today. The decision was already made, but the competition allowed Micron to wring more cash and concessions from their pre-selected location.

I wonder what this Ken Neal fellow is doing these days. Is it the same fellow who writes in today's paper that raising our sales taxes will lower our property taxes? Can't be!

The Highest Bidder // When Will States, Cities Stop Bribing Companies?
Ken Neal

Oklahoma lost Micron Technologies to Utah. Well, that's not quite right. Despite the fact that Oklahoma City was one of the three "finalists" for a 3,500-employee computer-related plant, it appears in retrospect that Micron was probably headed for Utah all along.

Like a pretty girl after her man, Micron appears to have used Oklahoma and Nebraska to make Utah jealous. At least jealous enough to match the incentives offered by the two Plains states.

Gov. Frank Keating said the Micron folks were "yuppies" who liked their mountains. With the original operation in Boise, Idaho, Utah was a likely shift. And, other Oklahomans close to the negotiations believe that the Mormon roots of Micron executives naturally tilted them toward the Salt Lake City-Provo area, world headquarters of Mormonism.

Whatever the real reasons, the Micron case brings into question the competition between the states (and cities) for new industry.

The competition has gotten out of hand. That opinion is shared by many, usually professional economists and public policy analysts. And public officials, particularly governors, are fed up with trying to bribe business and industries and watching the size of the bribes go higher and higher. Incentives per job landed were in the range of $11,000 a decade ago; now Alabama has bid about $253 million, more than $100,000 a job, for a Mercedes auto plant.

Dr. Bernard L. Weinstein, director of the Center for Economic Development and Resources at the University of North Texas in Denton, challenges the smokestack chase in an article written for Southern Growth, a publication of the Southern Growth Policies Board.

"More than three decades of research and case studies have shown that the impact of state and local fiscal incentives on industrial location decisions is minimal at best, and a number of public policy groups have roundly condemned the practice."

Dr. Weinstein cited a 1967 conclusion by the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations that "the practice of making special tax concessions to new industry can have baneful effects by setting in motion a self-defeating cycle of competitive tax undercutting and irrational discrimination among business firms." In 1989, the Council of State Governments found no statistical evidence that business incentives actually create jobs or that fiscal inducements are a primary factor in business location decision-making. In 1993, the National Governors' Association approved a resolution stating that "the public and private sectors should undertake cooperative efforts that result in improvements to the general economic climate rather than focus on subsidies for individual projects or companies."

Says Dr. Weinstein: "The fiction abounds that those locales most inclined to give away tax base, or otherwise financially subsidize new industry, will somehow be viewed as offering the best climates."

The nation's governors urge that "competition among states should be judged on factors such as improvements in education, transportation and telecommunications, stable fiscal conditions, equitable tax policies, business regulations and the provision of quality public services."

Tulsa -- and Oklahoma -- have not gone overboard in the smokestack race. In general, the approach has been to follow the advice of the nation's governors to make the city and the state desirable places to live and so attract business and industry. More important, the courtship of newcomers has not detracted from the need to treat existing industries -- some of them old corporate citizens -- as the valuable assets they are. One analyst has likened the industry chase to a homeowner who steals his neighbor's green grass. It's far better to water and fertilize and grow one's own lawn than to steal someone else's.

Oklahoma's Quality Jobs program is recognized as the nation's pacesetter. It pays companies to bring or expand payrolls, but only as the jobs are brought into being. There is no gamble on the part of the state, and native companies are entitled to participate. Other tax incentives give Oklahoma as good an incentive plan -- short of outright cash -- as any state.

In the sole instance in which Tulsa taxpayers are paying for an industry -- the Whirlpool plant -- the city appears to have grabbed a winner. The Whirlpool plant was the biggest manufacturing plum in the nation last year and Tulsa got it. Already, several smaller companies are planning to relocate to Tulsa to supply parts and services for Whirlpool.

Yet, Whirlpool probably will be a rarity for Tulsans. Local officials would not have asked voters to levy a half-cent sales tax to raise $26 million for the Whirlpool plant here if that firm had not been a blue-chip company.

On the other hand, Whirlpool executives make no bones about it. If Tulsa had not had the labor force, a central location, the educational facilities and great natural resources, the cash incentive would not have been enough to bring the company here.

The Micron episode is instructive for Oklahomans. The state and Oklahoma City laid out the range of incentives available to the company. The state's strong points were noted. Officials made the best offer the state could. They did not foolishly promise too much. That's not a bad pattern for the future. What more can be done?

Incentives are really a small part of the total economic development picture. Firm after firm, survey after survey show the same things. Companies want and need the same things that individual citizens desire: Good schools. Good technical education opportunities. A topflight higher education system.
Good roads and transportation. Recreational facilities. Social and cultural amenities. All these cost money and as well as a commitment by citizens and their leaders. Solid economic development grows out of a solid community. It is not an event, but a process.

And there's this consolation: Citizens use and enjoy the same necessities and amenities that attract and develop the economy. The tax dollars are not simply buying a payroll, but building a city.

In this week's Whirled's Satellite section, Sara Jeffries explains why this "vision" is a blurry one at best. Sara is a home-schooled junior and a hard-hitting writer. First she takes on the Mayor:

Vision 2025 is Mayor Bill LaFortune and his cronies' idea of a sales tax to boost the economy.

Un-LaFortunately, any economist worth his weight will tell you that you can't tax your way to prosperity.

The brunt of this tax burden will lie heavily on the backs of the impoverished people of Tulsa County. Why should these citizens have to pay for an arena when they probably couldn't even afford the tickets to an event there?

Why take a penny from the penniless just so the wealthy can have a fancier playground?

Mayor LaFortune, what can we as tax-paying citizens do to get you to climb down off the backs of the hardworking, low-income people of Tulsa County?

Then Sara takes on the arena:

According to a Convention, Sports and Leisure International feasibility study, Tulsa does not draw from a sufficient population to support a large arena.

"Promoters were skeptical of a new arena's ability to draw incremental events to the marketplace. A few promoters thought that the Mabee Center (11,575 seats) is as large a facility as the Tulsa marketplace can support," stated the CSL feasibility study.

"Promoters believed that to differentiate itself, a new arena facility would have to be larger than any of the existing facilities, but they thought major concerts would still skip the Tulsa market since the market probably is not large enough to support that size of facility."

If this arena is going to be such a success, then why haven't private investors built one? Investors are always looking for a good, sound, money-making project.

She goes on to tackle the river, the American Airlines and Boeing deals, and the "higher ed free-for-all", and closes with this:

More, more, more! Why, why, why? What does it all mean?

I'll tell you what it means. It means that the mayor and a handful of chamber members are digging deep into our pockets for their quixotic projects. Not only that, but they're trying to lay a guilt trip on citizens who are carefully questioning this prolonged money grab.

I urge all citizens of Tulsa County to stand up and fight against this fiscal fallacy, a.k.a. Vision 2025.

Wow. Go read it all.

Debates today and tonight


Tulsa County Republican Men's Club is hosting a debate at the Fountains Restaurant today at 11:45 am. (Lunch buffet is $8.) Jim Hewgley will be speaking in favor of sound economic policy and common sense; Mayor LaFortune will be speaking in opposition.

Tonight at 8 pm on KWHB (cable channel 7, UHF channel 47 for those with rabbit ears), there will be a debate between myself and former County Assessor Jack Gordon (again speaking on behalf of sound policy and common sense), and Mayor LaFortune and his aide Karen Keith speaking in opposition. Bob Losure will moderate, and the panelists will be William Tisdale, Bill Paddock (KWHB general manager), Henry Primeaux (owner of Crown Bristow), and Carole Lambert of KTUL. Charles Biggs of the Tulsa Beacon, and former Councilor Todd Huston, who hosts a radio show on KCFO, were originally scheduled to be on the panel, but they were dropped. (UPDATE: Charlie Biggs was added back in -- see below.)

William Tisdale is an interesting choice. He's a fine person -- I met him when he was working for Carlton Pearson's mayoral campaign -- and he is clearly on the vote yes side. In fact, William is in a video for the vote yes campaign, which you can find on their website. (Here's a direct link to the QuickTime version of the video.)

I don't know for certain about the positions of the other three panelists, although Henry Primeaux was an enthusiastic supporter of the Tulsa Project and Tulsa Time, and I would guess that he backs the Billion-Dollar Blank Check, too. (If you know for certain that he or the other panelists have taken a public stand, please e-mail me with the information -- blog at batesline dot com.) Interesting that two people who have asked tough questions about the tax package have been dropped from the panel.

Tune in tonight, and we'll see if this panel serves up softballs to the Mayor and his assistant, or if they ask tough questions of both sides, to the edification of the public.

UPDATE: In the end, Charlie Biggs was added back to the panel, and all the panelists asked good questions that gave us jumping off points for discussing the issues. The format -- response from one side, response from the other, rebuttal from the first side -- allowed for some give and take, and made it a real debate. My thanks to Bill Paddock and KWHB for making this event come to pass. Thanks to Bob Losure and the panelists. Thanks to my debate partner, Jack Gordon, who did a great job. And thanks also to Bill LaFortune and Karen Keith for making a debate possible by showing up.

One more item: Henry Primeaux mentioned that he's got a lot of concerns about this proposal and is still undecided.

If you missed it, here's the replay schedule:

Monday, September 1, 7 pm, KWHB (UHF channel 47, Cox cable channel 7)

Tuesday, September 2, 7 pm, KTUL (Channel 8)

Thursday, September 4, 8 pm, KWHB (UHF channel 47, Cox cable channel 7)

Monday, September 8, 7:30 pm, KWHB (UHF channel 47, Cox cable channel 7)

Lawsuit details


Updated 2015/10/27 to fix special characters that were substituted for quotation marks and other symbols and to add a note that an address embedded in the text of the brief is no longer current.

Todd Huston was kind enough to send me the brief that was filed in support of his lawsuit regarding the September 9 sales tax election. You can follow the link at the end of this entry to read the whole thing. Todd cautions that it's substantially, but not exactly what was filed -- a couple of words changed here and there.

Contrary to the Whirled's hysterical editorial this morning, the lawsuit does not insist on breaking up the ballot project-by-project, but rather subject-by-subject, as required by the State Constitution, Article 5, Section 57. The brief examines the list of projects in propositions 3 and 4, using section 8 of each ballot resolution.

Proposition 3 has 9 projects listed; the brief sees those as five subjects: Expo Square improvements, the Convention Center and Arena, facilities for higher education, instructional materials for public schools, and construction of a new Morton Healthcare Center.

Proposition 4 has 26 projects listed. The brief sees these as falling into 12 subjects: community centers & pools, Mohawk Park/Air and Space Center, trails, Arkansas River improvements, road and bridge improvements, paying off some of the Aquarium's debt, building a Jazz Hall of Fame, downtowns & neighborhoods fund, flood prevention, infrastructure for Owasso medical complex, Sand Springs urban renewal, infrastructure for Indian Cultural Center.

One more thing to notice, under item D -- the summary of the 1995 Weinberg case:

A previous attempt to "logroll" the voting citizens of Tulsa County was thwarted in Weinberg vs. Board of County Commissioners, Tulsa County District Court Case No. CJ 95-2761. In Weinberg, the Tulsa County voters were faced with a ballot that sought to pass, in a single proposition, the funding to not only construct a county jail, but to also fund "early intervention and delinquency prevention programs." The ballot was invalidated under the Single Subject Rule and the ballot had to be redrafted because it was "very conceivable that many voters would favor the jail portion of the proposal but oppose the expenditure of funds for intervention and delinquency prevention programs; it is also conceivable that voters would favor the "social programs" portion but be unwilling to support the jail proposition." (See Order dated June 29, 1995, Weinberg vs. Board of County Commissioners, attached hereto as Exhibit "D"). The broad theme of "criminal justice" did not pass the "common, closely akin theme or purpose" test in Weinberg.

And here's the summary of the case against Propositions 3 and 4:

Propositions 3 and 4 on the subject ballot are defining examples of logrolling. Each Proposition represents a grouping of multiple projects aimed at each of the various voting groups/communities in the county. The intent is clear and obvious: throw enough money at each of the voting blocks to ensure passage of a group of unrelated projects that may not pass if each individual project were considered separately. The lack of a common, closely akin theme or purpose is clear when you compare a new convention center to school books or a new public health center to Expo Square or building facilities for state colleges. Similarly, Route 66 improvements are not germane to a water line in Owasso. The Jazz Hall of Fame has nothing to do with the Zink Lake shore beautification. As was the case in Weinberg, it is clearly conceivable that there are voters who will want to vote in favor of some of the projects listed in Proposition No. 3 but to oppose other projects listed in the same Proposition. The same is true of Proposition No. 4. The Plaintiff and all Tulsa County voters deserve to be able to make the kind of choices that were intended by the drafters of Oklahoma Constitution Article 5, Section 57.

There's a conference set for Tuesday to determine how the case will proceed.

Is the ballot constitutional?


Just now getting a minute to write about this, this being the lawsuit filed by former City Councilor Todd Huston challenging the constitutionality of the September 9th county sales tax ballot. I saw the story in the Whirled this morning, and I called Todd around midday, and he gave me a few more details. He said the intent of the suit was not to stop the election but to have it move forward with a ballot that is constitutional. The suit targets propositions 3 and 4.

The issue at stake is the anti-logrolling provision of the Oklahoma state constitution. Logrolling is the practice of combining unpopular items with unrelated popular items in an attempt to get the unpopular items approved. That definition accurately spells out the rationale for including higher and common education in a package that includes the twice-rejected downtown sports arena. Originally the same ballot item would have included money for American Airlines, but there was an effort (supported by several city councilors) to make the AA item and higher ed separate from the arena. Some of the Chamber Pots on the leadership team claimed that AA's executives wanted to be tied to the arena, but a phone call to AA soon exposed that fib.

In the end, AA was split off, but higher ed remained attached. I was told at the time that a number of business leaders threatened to withhold funds for the vote yes campaign if the arena was made to stand on its own.

There was a lawsuit in 1995 regarding an election for a 1/2 cent sales tax to build the new Tulsa County Jail and fund crime prevention programs. The judge ruled for the plaintiff, effectively cancelling the election and forcing the County Commission to schedule a new election, this time with the issues separated. In the rescheduled election, the crime prevention program funding failed, while the jail tax passed, which is why our sales tax rate is 7 and 11/12ths percent, rather than a full 8. The issues in that case were closely related to each other, especially compared with a ballot item that links an arena and a health care center. The judge in that case, Jane Wiseman, has been assigned this case as well.

In 2000, the County Commission was very careful to group "4 to Fix the County" by subject in four separate ballot items: Parks, Flood Prevention, Roads, and Expo Square. I recall Commissioner Wilbert Collins saying at the time that they'd have preferred a single ballot item, but the law required the split.

Here's what I think happened this time: After the leadership team got done with their horsetrading, the County Commissioners took the four-item proposal, gave it to the lawyers, and told them that the groupings are set in stone -- make it work. The lawyers must have worked hard, because they didn't have the ballot resolutions ready for the Commissioners to review until an hour before their meeting on July 7. The lawyers took the approach of using vague headings to cover all the items in propositions 3 and 4 -- "economic development" and "infrastructure".

As someone who worked hard publically and behind the scenes for a logical ballot that gives voters meaningful choices, I'm happy to see that voters may actually be given the ballot they deserve. Not only is it the right thing to do, it appears that it's the law.

P.S. Thanks to the 300-plus visitors to my site today. Sorry I didn't have anything new for you to read until now!

Friday afternoon, I taped an interview for "Studio Tulsa", an interview program on KWGS, FM 89.5, the local NPR affiliate. It runs daily from 11:30 to noon. My interview is scheduled to run Monday or Tuesday. The show website should be updated tomorrow morning with the list of this week's shows. If you can't pick up 89.5 over the airwaves, you can listen via the web.

Rich Fisher is the host of "Studio Tulsa", and he does a great job of setting his subject at ease. Like Brian Lamb on C-SPAN, Rich doesn't put himself front and center. He proceeds on the assumption that his guest has something interesting to say. He doesn't try to debate the guest but asks the questions an intelligent listener would want to ask, then gives the guest time to answer.

My half-hour behind the mike was relaxed and enjoyable, and I hope it comes across as well as it seemed to be going while the tape was rolling. Thanks to Rich Fisher and KWGS for the opportunity.

Harry Seay III has a guest editorial in today's Whirled in which he conducts a mock debate with imaginary opponents to Myopia 2025. The piece is beautifully written, but it's apparent that he hasn't had any contact with actual opponents.

He divides opponents into hardcode "aginners", whom he dismisses out of hand, purists, defeatists, tax protesters, and refined defeatists. For the remaining four cases, he puts words in the mouths of the opposition and proceeds to refute them. Here's an example:

Defeatists say Tulsa is on the skids and efforts to prepare for tomorrow are futile. Go back to sleep; the tooth fairy may bring us a shiny new industry.

But industry doesn't fall to earth like the dew or come here for the climate. It looks for communities with civic integrity and ambition, qualities that have defined Tulsa and are with us today unless counsels of helplessness, which in our own lives we shun, extinguish the flame.

The only counsels of helplessness I hear are coming from the proponents of this package. "The free market doesn't work! We must give a billion dollars to the County Commissioners! They will save us!" Likewise, belief in the jobs fairy is at the heart of this sales tax plan. The proponents can't tell us how this package will recover the thousands of high-tech jobs lost in the failures of WorldCom and Williams and other tech companies, but they are certain that wonderful things will magically happen if we just do something.

Tulsa is certainly not helpless, and the opponents to this tax package have been making constructive recommendations for improving Tulsa's economy. State government reforms are needed to make Oklahoma a good state for starting and growing a business. A CPA friend has advised Oklahoma to look to Delaware -- cut tax rates, streamline government procedures and businesses will come flocking. Locally, city government needs to implement the recommendations of the Mayor's performance review, and the review process needs to be continued to cover all areas of local government (including the county and suburban municipalities).

A couple of ideas need public leadership and private money: First, we need a local pool of venture capital to help local entrepreneurs get their creative ideas off the ground. Second, Tulsa has a pool of highly talented knowledge workers in the ranks of the unemployed and we need to provide assistance to keep them here -- private donations and assistance with job networking can help keep them from moving to Texas.

Industry doesn't fall from the sky. It starts with the seed of an idea and some seed money. We can pay big bucks to transplant industry from somewhere else, and hope the transplant works, or we can water and feed the tender seedlings that are already growing here, and grow a diversity of businesses, adapted to local conditions, able to withstand times of drought.

Mr. Seay goes on to deny that Tulsans are over-taxed. Mr. Seay may not feel overtaxed, and this tax may be pocket change for him, but for most Tulsa families, $8,000 is a lot of money, especially when budgets are already tight.

As an attorney, Mr. Seay knows that it would be easy to win a court case if the counsel for the other side was just an expensive pinstriped suit stuffed with hay and straw. A real trial involves skilled advocates on both sides, each presenting evidence and testimony, each cross-examining the evidence of the other. The public deserves such a full debate, not just setting up a straw man and knocking him down.

[Seay is pronounced "see", and I was very tempted to headline this entry "Seay III, PO-ed". But that would have been silly.]

Another note: The Republican and Democratic County Chairmen submitted a precedent-setting joint letter rebutting the Tulsa Whirled editorial attack on the parties' neutral stance. The Whirled has refused to run it, citing length as an objection. The Whirled could have run their letter as a "Readers' Forum" piece, like this column, but they chose not to do so.

Truth in Whirled headlines


It was refreshing to see the Whirled publish (on Tuesday, August 19) an editorial with a headline warning the reader that the text beneath was misleading and full of distortions. There it was, bold as brass at the beginning of the editorial column: "Not so." And indeed, most of what followed was not so.

Perhaps truth in headlining will become standard practice at the Whirled: "Has-been humorist" would appear next to Jay Cronley's photo.

The Whirled was accusing former County Assessor Jack Gordon of making "claims that should not go unchallenged." But the Whirled doesn't challenge his facts at all. They make counterclaims without providing any substantiation, and in one case they affirm what he said, but do so in a way that looks like contradiction.

Here's their first challenge:

For example, he criticized the size of the $885 million package, claiming it will "cost us $200 million in interest alone." In fact, officials estimate that a likely interest cost for advance-funding projects is about 5 percent -- or something in the neighborhood of $50 million. What's more, there's a good chance of earning investment income in that same neighborhood, which means debt service and in terest earnings might be a wash.

The Whirled offers no substantiation beyond "officials estimate". Jack Gordon's estimate is based on a 3.75% interest rate and the fact that the bulk of the projects will be funded within the first year -- Boeing, American, the arena, the higher ed projects, and several projects in prop 4. So we'll be borrowing over $700 million right away and paying it back over the next 13 years. We'll borrow the remaining $175 million within the first three years -- they won't make the suburbs wait for their shares, will they?

I tried this myself with these assumptions -- $700 million initial principal, another $100 million after year one, another $50 million after year two, and the remaining $35 million after year three. Payments starting at $38.5 million semi-annually (based on current tax revenues, and growing at a 3% annual rate -- yielding $1.2 billion in revenues over 13 years), with 3.75% annual interest assessed semi-annually. And of course, I take into account Boeing's annual $12.5 million repayment beginning at the end of year 11. I come up with $217 million in interest. And I'm assuming the trust will only spend the $885 million on their list -- if they spend more, the interest will be more. If others have different estimates, let's see their assumptions.

And how does the Whirled propose we earn investment income when we're going into debt right off the bat and won't get the debt repaid until year 12?

Item two:

Gordon also claimed that "it's already been shown that there will be at least $150 million left over" for a public trust to spend. In fact, city and county officials have said the option exists for elected officials to call a halt to the new penny sales tax when funding for all projects and costs has been obtained. No one can say at this point if any surplus will ever be generated.

The Tulsa Whirled's own story on July 23rd had this to say:

Assuming no growth in sales, a 1-cent increase in the county sales tax would raise about $1,014,180,000 over its 13-year life, based on county receipts from the fiscal 2003, which ended June 30.

A 13-year, 1-cent sales tax increase would raise about $1,069,191,000, based on fiscal 2002 county sales figures.

That first, lower number is $129,180,000 above the $885,000,000 designated for projects. The second number, which still assumes no growth in sales, but uses a different baseline, is $184,191,000 above the designated project amount.

The fact that officials have the option to call a halt to the tax is not reassuring. Taxes only go away when they are required to -- as the Whirlpool tax did, when the designated dollar amount was raised. If they were committed to terminating the tax when the money was raised, they could have written a limit into the tax. But they chose not to do so. The only limit is 13 years.

Here's their third slap. They state exactly what Jack Gordon has been saying, but make it sound like they are contradicting him.

The former assessor declares that there is no guarantee that construction jobs will be given to local or state companies. In fact, resolutions call for local vendor preference when possible in accordance with state law. But as Gordon should know, state and local laws require competitive bidding and contractor selection based on the lowest and best bid.

The last sentence is precisely the point: State laws require the county to select the lowest and best bid. Counties can only do what state law explicitly authorizes them to do. They do not have the discretion to give bonus points to local businesses. Local businesses might win the bid, but they have no special advantage, and there is no guarantee that a local business will be selected. It's disingenuous to point to the line in the resolution ("to the extent permitted by law") because the extent permitted by law is not at all.

The Whirled closes by expressing confidence in the common sense of Tulsa's voters:

Let's hope voters, who have shown remarkable common sense over the years, can distinguish the public figures spouting the half-truths from those trying to tell voters what they really want to know and should know. Our bet is they can tell the difference.

The "vote no" team is betting that the voters' common sense will prevail on September 9th, just as it did in 1997 and 2000, when voters saw through expensive marketing campaigns to reject sales taxes for sports arenas.

They pledged to oppose tax hikes


Someone called my attention to this list of legislators who have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The pledge reads as follows:

I, ____________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ District of the State of _________ and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.

Here is the list of Tulsa County legislators who have taken the pledge as of this June:

Sen. Charles R. Ford
Sen. Scott Pruitt
Sen. Jerry L. Smith
Rep. Sue Tibbs
Rep. Todd Hiett
Rep. Hopper Smith
Rep. Fred Perry
Rep. Dennis Adkins
Rep. Ron Peterson

Rep. Adkins is noted as a new signer this year. All of these legislators are Republicans.

All the Republicans in the Oklahoma congressional delegation, including Sen. (and former Tulsa Mayor) James Inhofe and Tulsa Congressman John Sullivan, have taken a similar pledge. Sen. Inhofe has a 100% rating from Americans for Tax Reform. Rep. Sullivan's rating is 91%.

So far I haven't heard any area legislator take a public stand on the proposed county sales tax increase. While a legislator only has one vote on this matter, like an ordinary citizen, a legislator would have some credibility and influence based on his experience in matters of public finance. Will any of these avowed opponents of "any and all efforts to increase taxes" lend their voices to stop a billion dollar tax increase? Or will they allow the proponents to continue to spread the myth that elected officials are united in support?

The latest Urban Tulsa has a thoughtful column from Terry Simonson about the upcoming sales tax vote. Terry hasn't written much since his run for Mayor last year.

The focus of the column is on Tulsa's economy and what we ought to do about it. A few quotes:

The issue for some is whether or not the direction that is proposed with Vision 2025 will lead to a better future for Tulsa and is it believable enough that its worth paying more taxes for. ...

A one cent increase in sales tax may not sound like a big deal unless you have watched your paycheck get smaller or you fear that soon you may not have a paycheck at all. This backdrop, more than partisanship, is what really must be conquered by the Vision 2025 supporters.

There is plenty of talk that American Airlines is not leaving and Boeing is not coming, only they know for sure. What makes a business come here or stay here? For the big companies, its what stockholders want and how management delivers. It doesn’t matter to a Citgo stockholder in France, Alaska, or Boston what Tulsa is like if Citgo could perform better and give a better return by being Houston. And government can do only so much to impact a business condition significantly enough to influence business decisions. ...

Simonson offers an interesting approach to helping small businesses grow.

Where do most of the jobs come from in Tulsa? Small business. Who has the greatest difficulty getting the capital necessary to upgrade and expand operations? Small business. Who is likely to fall under the sluggish economy the quickest? Small business. Even though an employee at small businesses may not be making $50,000, more paychecks go into more banks and stores and shops from the small business employee than from any place else.

Perhaps we should have proposed that a small increase in sales tax for a short period of time that would create a capital pool that small business could borrow from and the repayment of these loans would create a sustainable economic development fund that could perpetually help retain and expand small businesses.

NFIB research
shows that small businesses create 2/3rds of net new jobs, and small businesses create nearly all the net new jobs during a recession and the beginning of an expansion -- while big businesses are still finding their feet. I wrote about this back in July.

Terry continues:

Everyone wants new attractions in Tulsa. That was evidenced by the long list of ideas proposed during the revisioning process. Not everyone will agree on how or when we do this. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Vision 2025 supporters in the economic climate of Tulsa (when the future of so many Tulsans grows more uncertain with each passing day) is to convince citizens that a government led recovery, supported by taxpayers’ money, is the only hope we have for a better tomorrow.

History has shown that Tulsans are very discerning voters when it comes to publicly financed projects. It doesn’t seem to matter much to us who does or does not endorse an initiative or how good the commercials are on TV or even who has the most money to spend in a campaign. The message must hit home in terms of identifying a problem on which there is consensus, that the proposed solutions are clearly and simply articulated and explained, and the public feels compelled to support it. When this is missing and voters are undecided, they simply conclude that voting no costs them nothing.

Go read the whole thing.

A perspective, part of an interesting exchange, over at the TulsaNow forum, from someone who actually lives downtown.

My position on the ballot (yeah or nah) aside, I live inside the IDL.

Have for 7 years now.
Right on the edge of all the wonderful new bars. (Wonderful, maybe if I were still in my 20's)

Unless you live here, and suffer the back lash of confused people driving the wrong way on one way's, with their cars radio cranked to "11" late into the night, and all the subsequent problems, that arise from a short fall of law enforcement, just to name a few, your only seeing the gloss of this "Exciting reality".

Austins' 6 street battle between housing and the night life, is a great example of what we are about to additionally suffer, should there ever be rooftops built for people to actually start living here.

The not yet "24/7" party scene is already loud: which carries for miles. It is also already riddled with issues that contradicts the concept of a nice place to call "home" at 3:00AM.

What's being created in the district, this resurgence, is showing signs that we, on the dimly lit cracked up sidewalks, should be addressing on a loftier level. Some people are and they should be heard out - carefully.

But don't get me wrong: I like walking over for a cold one (during the day) on occasion and personally believe bars serve an important function. (Unlike those in structures 300 feet away)

NO GROW ZONE is a one huge and obvious solution to ever increasing roadways to maintain, expanding infrastructure, pocket slums, infill hesitations, over taxed law enforcement patrolling crime areas, pollution, and a host of other issues. They stop sprawl on a dime.

Yes, developers can build, build all they want -it'd be nice if there is someone out there to tell them how to do it intelligently. If there is, that person must be on an extended vacation - but no building past this line.

At that point they'll have to start looking back into the city itself for new locations.

Which brings in the next set of issues we have to face. With the concept of Eminent domain, at the forefront.

This "little" item is the death of any private investment, on the grass roots level. I have people stop me at the front door wanting to find a similar place of their own, almost daily, for years now.

I tell them a short story.

The area is a target zone for a slew of shifting ideas that one day can have a Library sitting where your home once was, the next an Arena, day after that it's a parking lot.
The Arby's idea was said to generate many jobs.

About this time they say, "well, they have to pay you good money for your place!".

Wrong. There is no way to restore a building, even excluding labor cost, and hope to get anywhere close to breaking even.

NOTE: The price is fair market value, of the land, regardless of what sits on it. You should try it sometime. Sit down, do the math, imagine your home (not house) where you memories are housed, the place that shelters you and your family, the safest place on the p[lanet that you know of, is about to disappear for a few dollars a foot. Second thought, don't try it. It makes one very very excitable. And right now we need calmer talking heads, no?

So then I pick up where I left off in the story..."The thing is if you could repair your car, which is worth $25,000. for $5,000.00 but stood the chance of it being legaly repossed, because the finace company had a better use for the car, and told you you would recieve $1,000. period, see you later", would you repair the car?

Maybe, maybe not.

At that point the eager loft hunter, who has a strong interest in living down here, and are mostly people I would like to have as nieghbors, usually starts to get the bigger picture. And the conversation shifts to other topics.

Sure, nothing is a safe bet. But to see a rendering of a proposed idea, drawn up by some out of state developer, that hasn't even said "Boo" to you (the land owner) and see a Wal-mart parking lot, where your 100 year old home is presently standing is dis-heartening, to say the least.
To say the most would be a very long rant, over many beers at the Blue dome or Caz's, my two favorite places to go when they see fit to let me out of here.

My restoration has been stopped on a dime, and I hate it.
I like the "concepts" on the current ballot, but the wording, order, and means in which to pay for them has made me suspicious and now, very thirsty.

Bottom line is I cannot, in good conscience, vote YES on a 13 year county tax ballot when I may not be living in that county for the 13 years. If My home is razed, I'll be taking my bags of compensating peanuts somewhere else. I refuse to live in a city that follows up the major mistake of building the hugmougous jail inside this precsis confined space with notions of a Wal-mart. How embarressing is that? (Which probably makes the fear mongers in here very happy to hear) jdb

Just came across a thoughtful post on TulsaNow's forum, pointing out the lack of vision and foresight in "Vision 2025".

I haven't studied the "peak oil" issue and won't comment on the merits of those points, but the broader point is well-taken: A real vision process would have included a study of long-term challenges that our community will face -- challenges which will affect every city such as energy availability and the aging of the population, along with challenges specific to our region. Communities like Salt Lake City have undertaken such comprehensive studies. You might argue with the conclusions they drew in Salt Lake City, but at least they addressed the issues. That didn't happen in Tulsa.

And note the great point in the last paragraph. [Emphasis added.]

I recently moved back to Tulsa. I was one of the "youths" that left in disgust, but I always knew I would return eventually because in spite of it's flaws, Tulsa is quite liveable. Many of my friends have also returned.

I only recently learned of the visioning project, and I have been trying to educate myself about its history, so I skimmed over the original list of proposals submitted by citizens. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by the bulk of community input. Unfortunately, lots of good ideas didn't clear the city government, a few big porkers were added belatedly, and completely unrelated items were lumped together. That's not acceptable. Some folks advocate just passing it so we can at least "do something."

The problem with 2025 is it isn't forward-thinking at all. If it passes and achieves all the desired effects, we will be poorly aligned for 2050 and beyond. Growth is an outdated mantra.

The effects of Peak Oil are already becoming evident. By 2025, the situation will worsen substancially, and by 2050 we will all be in serious trouble. If you aren't familiar with the issue, check:


You are all welcomed and envited to dispute this, but one of the effects will be fealt this winter by spikes in natural gas prices. We can't drill our way out of it: in fact, we already drilled out. Oil capitol no longer.

Despite some of the assertians of some posters to this site, Tulsa is not an intellectual or industrial backwater. We have a highly educated skilled workforce. They haven't all moved away yet, but they do need work.

We have a surplus of vacant industrial warehouses. We should be attracting renewable energy generation manufacturers to locate here. Not stinky obsolete floundering airline manufacturers that regularly lay off their workers. We need a growth industry with a future. Demand for airliners fluctuates; demand for renewables will only increase in the next century. We can be the Energy Capitol, with vision.

As for the rest, passing this bill as written won't help. Probably won't hurt much, but setting low standards is counterproductive. Rewriting it without the tricky picks will be easy. So don't presume this is the last chance to "do something." We can rewrite it. Haste makes waste.

Talk about damning with faint praise -- spending $1 billion like this "probably won't hurt much!" For a billion dollars and a 13 year tax we ought to be taking bold strides into the future, not pursuing old-style economic development strategies (bribe big companies to come, build arenas), and funding projects that are nice, but not strategic.

As the writer notes, it would have been easy for our leaders to do this right. On September 9, we can tell them to get back on track for a real vision for our region.

The vote yes side is trying to allay concerns about the length of the tax, a tough sell, because the tax it will run 13 years, no matter how much money it raises. There is no cutoff once the projects are paid for.

At the TulsaNow forum a week and a half ago, Paul Wilson claimed that we can trust the County Commissioners to cut off the tax, because they did it once before. The 1994-1995 Whirlpool sales tax was ended earlier than scheduled, he said. (This morning on KFAQ, Mayor Bill LaFortune trotted out the same line.)

That didn't match my memory, and afterwards, several people confirmed that Wilson was wrong. County Commissioners made a commitment prior to the election that the tax would be cut off as soon as $26 million was raised. The Whirlpool tax oversight committee had as part of its task monitoring receipts and gauging when the tax could be cut off to take in at least the required $26 million. The Commissioners rejected limiting the tax to a fixed period (although state law at the time limited it to three years). The tax was cut off after a year because the target was reached, not because the Commissioners were feeling benificent.

Commissioners could have placed a dollar cutoff in this tax as well -- someone has suggested the project amounts plus 10% to cover possible cost overruns. It's no good to say the Commissioners might have mercy on us in 10 years or so; they had the chance to make the dollar cutoff a legal requirement and they declined to do so. What do you think they (or their successors) will do after over a decade of enjoying an annual revenue stream of $70 million or more?

Here are excerpts from a story from the April 21, 1994, Tulsa Whirled (emphasis mine). For the full text for this and a couple of related stories, click the link below.

The plant would provide about 1,400 jobs in Tulsa County. The tax will be assessed until $26 million is collected. Officials predict that should take a year or less. Harris said the overview committee would monitor collections to ensure the tax ends on schedule.

And from the September 7, 1994, Tulsa Whirled:

The plant, which will make kitchen ranges, will cost more than $100 million to build. It will have a work force of 1,300. County residents voted last June for a half-penny sales tax to raise $26 million to help Whirlpool build its plant. A condition of that election was that a committee would oversee collection of the money.

The tax went into effect July 1. The first money should be coming in by the second or third week of September, Oklahoma Tax Commission officials said.

The Tax Commission will collect the tax, then give the money to the county treasurer, who will turn it over to the Tulsa County Industrial Trust Authority for distribution to the Whirlpool project.

The trust authority comprises all three county commissioners. The 10-member watchdog panel will monitor the collection of the money, primarily to make sure that once the $26 million is raised the tax is eliminated. Officials believe the $26 million will be raised in about a year....

"No one knows how quickly the $26 million will be raised. It could be 10 months all the way to 14 months." [Commissioner Lewis] Harris said that if slightly more than $26 million is raised, the remainder will probably be used for road improvements around the plant, which will be in the Cherokee Expressway Industrial District.

I've been saying that giving Boeing and American millions of bucks is putting all our eggs in one basket, making Tulsa even more dependent on the weak commercial aviation industry. I've also said that it fails to replace the thousands of high tech jobs we lost due to the "tech wreck" and specific problems at WorldCom and Williams. These are folks who aren't qualified to turn a wrench for Boeing or American, and they're leaving Tulsa because of the lack of local jobs in their line of work.

Since the head of economic development for the Chamber of Commerce had "no idea" how to replace high tech jobs, I asked my friend Russ McGuire, who knows the tech sector like the back of his hand, for his thoughts. Here's the heart of his initial response:

I struggle with this since the real answer requires investment. Public investment means tax dollars and I just don't have confidence that government bureaucracy will efficiently translate my tax dollars into real jobs for real people. Private investment means companies committing to investing in Tulsa, which these days seems to mean tax dollars given (or surrendered) to bribe companies to invest here rather than elsewhere. ...

I've given lots of thought to what core competencies exist within NE Oklahoma (business and academia) that could be leveraged to create a world class leadership position for the state/area. This should translate into jobs. ...

Oklahoma has strong competencies in the following areas:
- Building and operating telecommunications networks (WilTel,Worldcom,Williams,WilTel(2),McLeod,AFN,etc.)
- Building and operating mission critical data centers (Sabre)
- Data Security (Sujeet et al at TU)
- Data/computation-intensive applications (national severe weather center in Norman)
- General construction (pipeline/energy heritage)

We have the following resources:
- Land (cheap and plentiful)
- People (bright, trained, low cost of living)
- Numerous fiber optic/data networks
- Several research universities geographically distributed, but relatively close (Norman, Stillwater, Tulsa)

The question is how to exploit those competencies. One possibility Russ suggests is a centrally located, large-scale data center, doing both production work and R&D, with the R&D focused on "new technologies and services with near-term commercial applications, so that the center could quickly become self-funding." There's a hitch, though.

Initial funding is a real problem. A couple of years ago, I believed that strong local companies, combined with national grants through the universities could cover the cost. Today, I just don't know...

But starting something big isn't the only way to go. Russ e-mailed me again a day later. We could and should be helping entrepreneurs get off the ground, but Tulsa isn't making it happen.

Lying in bed unable to sleep, it hit me that I skipped the entire class of job creation about which I'm most passionate - entrepreneurism.

The reason I skipped it is because I've already reached the conclusion that entrepreneurship, or rather technology entrepreneurship is not supported in Tulsa.

Yesterday I mentioned competencies and resources that can play into Tulsa's technology future. I didn't mention capital. Is that because there isn't any money in Tulsa? Of course not. But, from my experience, that money isn't focused on building great new technology companies.

Over the years I've looked at this from a number of angles. I've been a speaker at two of the Southwest Capital conferences hosted here each year. I've attended meetings of a local Entrepreneurs Club. I've even started a few companies myself. I've been a member of the small committee at Williams Communications that made decisions about which entrepreneurial companies to invest in. I've participated in the COEITT forums aimed at nurturing technology excellence in the area. Bottom line - I've seen just about every angle there is to this issue.

And to be honest, it's embarrasing.

As an expert on the telecommunications industry, I've been invited to speak by chambers of commerce in the Dallas area, the Boston area, the Silicon Valley area, the Seattle area, and even Ottawa. Venture capitalists on both coasts have flown me in to speak to their partners about which opportunities are most promising. I was asked to serve on advisory boards to venture backed firms in Boston, San Jose, and Washington. For three years, TeleChoice, the firm I served as Chief Strategist, and widely recognized as a top expert in launching innovative telecommunications companies, technologies, products, and services, was headquartered in Tulsa. Clients, literally on every continent except Antartica, actively sought out our advice.

We did virtually no business in Tulsa.

We couldn't get the Tulsa Chamber to return our calls. (We actually got excited one time when they DID call back and arrange a meeting. The summer intern who showed up had merely finally gotten to our name in his list of technology companies that he was surveying for some expensive study that yielded no meaningful results...)

Same with local venture capitalists. ...

I fear that Tulsa's "entrepreneurial spirit" is dead. Sure, it was central to the creation of the city and economy, but today it is as dead as downtown. There is capital in Tulsa. Much of it flows to other cities and other states. What stays here gets invested in old economy companies - many of them entrepreneurial.

Is this wrong? Am I condemning the investors?

No. Two obvious observations. I bet those "boring" investments have been much more profitable than technology investments the past few years. But more defensibly - investors are best off investing in what they know, and wealthy Tulsans generally don't know technology...

Am I saying there are no technology entrepreneurs in the Tulsa area? No. I'm one. You're one. There are many more.

Am I saying that entrepreneurial companies can't survive in Tulsa? I certainly hope that's not the case...

So, the natural thought process is: Aha, we should take all that tax money planned to be spent to lure Boeing et al to Tulsa, and instead create a huge fund to invest in entrepreneurial technology companies!

Or, how about, we don't collect the taxes in the first place, meaning that individual investors can choose to do that investing themselves...

It's a shame that someone with Russ McGuire's intelligence and experience doesn't have a seat at the table when we're talking about developing a shared regional vision. But it seems that our city and county leaders and the Chamber Pots only have time for the same old-money interest groups and the same old set of ideas.

And another idea -- let's have our public officials use their "bully pulpits" to encourage the local aristocracy to participate in the development of a private "Tulsa technology" fund to encourage the development of new technology ventures. Treat it as an exercise in local boosterism. As seed money, start with the $800,000 they're about to spend convincing us to raise our own taxes. Add to that seed money the millions in tax dollars that we annually flush down the toilet known as the Metro Tulsa Chamber, as payment for their feeble and clueless "economic development" efforts.

Just prying the Metro Tulsa Chamber off of the public teat would be a tremendous step in the right direction.

CITGO going, gone?


OkiePundit, aka Alfalfa Bill, has some inside scoop on the possibility that CITGO will relocate its Tulsa employees to Houston:

Venezuela-owned CITGO has announced it may uproot its North American HQ from Tulsa and move it to Houston. This could be yet another blow to Tulsa and the state if it happens. CITGO has been a very positive corporate citizen in Tulsa and employs a thousand people in the state.

Until recently, CITGO was run by a Venezuelan that loved Tulsa and intended to stay. Unfortunately, he was replaced some months ago by a loyalist to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who immediately ordered a study of whether CITGO should move to Houston.

At the same time that CITGO's pro-Tulsa president was replaced, Governor Brad Henry's Administration let the only Latin American specialist at the Department of Commerce go - a lady that had worked hard to establish a close relationship with CITGO and to assure they were happy in Oklahoma. With the state's primary link to the company's Venezuelan leadership gone - there was no one left that understood the company's inner culture. As the Miami Herald reports today, Houston moved quickly to stepup efforts to entice the new leadership to move to Houston. The leadership of the State of Oklahoma and Tulsa were apparently clueless about what was going on. This despite the common knowledge that the Houston Partnership (their Chamber of Commerce) continues to aggressively recruit Tulsa's remaining energy companies.

On the news tonight Governor Brad Henry was asked what he thought about yet another big company moving its HQ out of Oklahoma. Looking like a deer caught in headlights, the Governor murmured something about how CITGO really loved Oklahoma and that he'd be talking to CITGO. Belatedly, the Governor is now trying to meet with CITGO executives but CITGO seems in no hurry. Insiders at CITGO say they are frustrated the Governor had not moved earlier to court the new CITGO leadership. They also lament that Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Kathryn Taylor had relied on her ties to the equally clueless American side of CITGO's middle-management - naively thinking they called the shots at CITGO. And they don't. The Venezuelans do.

Oklahoma might lose CITGO (I hope not!) but we'd stand a better chance if our leaders were savvy.

Frightening to think that 1000 Tulsa jobs are at the whim of the crony of a Castroesque Latin American dictator. And frightening to see who we've got handling the matter on our side.

I'm told that there's nothing to this suspicion, but I wonder if CITGO execs took notice of the desperate willingness of Tulsa's leaders to toss money at American Airlines and saw an opportunity to get some cash or at least some concessions. CITGO is a much more credible threat to leave Tulsa than American because they don't have a huge capital investment in Tulsa. As far as I'm aware, CITGO just has to call the moving vans and sneak off in the middle of the night, Baltimore Colts-style.

Desperation is not attractive, except to those would exploit the desperate.

Last night I represented the opposition in the sales tax debate sponsored by the Young Republicans. Clay Bird, the Mayor's chief policy adviser, represented the position "vote yes on everything." Councilor Chris Medlock, having just voted with the rest of the Council to endorse the whole thing (despite serious reservations about governance issues), was representing the viewpoint, "I support 2 and 4, am undecided about 1 and 3." So most of the evening it was those two against little ol' me. Chris did give voice to his concerns about oversight and governance, but rather than oppose the package he would try to fix it after the vote and take a "leap of faith" that the missing safeguards wouldn't be necessary.

Some remarkable things came out of Clay Bird's mouth. Toward the end of the debate, he attacked the Tulsa Beacon, which ran a critical article on the front page this week. He called it a comic book, expressed the wish that people not take it seriously, said that in the Whirled at least they label their editorials as such. (At which remark, I laughed out loud. See below.)

Bird also had an interesting remedy for our status as a "donor county" -- we send more tax money to the state capitol than we get back in services. The legislature won't fix the problem, so we should raise our own taxes to build and fund facilities for state functions like higher education. We will still be sending and receiving the same amount of money from the state, but because we're also taxing ourselves more.... Somehow that makes us not a donor county any more, according to Clay Bird, the Mayor's chief policy adviser.

Bird explained his about-face on the issue of putting the arena and the higher education facilities on separate ballot items. He supported separating them until "Councilor Neal showed me the light." (That provoked some laughter from the crowd.)

Bird confirmed the possibility that TV Guide may pull out of Tulsa, as Citgo is doing. I wonder -- are they serious about moving, or do they think we'll come up with some cash to keep them here?

Bird also claimed that if we don't approve Proposition No. 2, thousands of American Airlines jobs will go away... eventually, when AA stops flying MD-80s.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Bird observed that the split on this issue doesn't run on partisan lines. He noted that Republican opposition to the tax came from the conservative wing of the party, and expressed a wish for a different local party that he could join. He said he considers himself a national Republican and local independent. He considered himself a part of a progressive pro-development party, and the opponents are all anti-development. Afterwards I asked him if he thought the "Chamber, Developers, and Establishment Party" would be a good name for the group he wants to join. He said, "Something like that, yeah." It should be remembered that it was conservative Republican support that won Bill LaFortune the nomination for Mayor.

Clay has actually hit upon the basic division in Tulsa politics, a division that joins people from both national parties in two large factions. The first is a well-organized faction whose party organ is the Tulsa Whirled and which uses the Tulsa Metro Chamber as a taxpayer-funded promotional organization. This faction controls most local government offices and runs the city in their own interest, and have done so for decades. The second faction is not organized at all, and is led by people who have seen up close how the system works and believe that city government should serve all the people, not just the special interests. But I'll save a detailed discussion of political power in Tulsa for another day.

Both Chris Medlock and I were misrepresented by the Whirled in this morning's paper. Chris made a joke about his middle-of-the-road position -- "I'm trying to see if I can straddle the fence without getting hurt." The Whirled reported it as, "After the council meeting, Medlock told an audience at a forum sponsored by the Tulsa Young Republicans that he was 'trying to ride the fence so I don't get hurt.'" Not only were the words wrong, but the wrong impression was conveyed. The reader would get the impression that Chris was worried about his political standing, and that was motivating his stand on the issues. He was just making a joke to break the ice.

The Whirled correctly reported a couple of things:

Bates, meanwhile, said he was disappointed to see the Republicans elected to local offices advocating raising taxes.

Republicans comprise majorities on both the City Council and the Tulsa County Commission, the latter of which approved the ballot measures.

Bates said the four proposals would not build a foundation for the future or take care of the city’s current needs.

So far, so good. But then the Whirled ends the story with a purported quote from a different part of the debate. I believe the Whirled misquoted me. At the very least they omitted a significant bit of context. The Whirled wrote, "'I’d rather spend it on things that would improve my family’s quality of life — not on things that are going to improve somebody else’s,' he said."

Here's what I said, in the context in which I said it. Clay Bird brought up the small amount of money each family would have to spend each year to pay for this tax and improve the quality of life for all of us. I mentioned that this summer, because the city pools are closed, I paid $150 so that my family could join a neighborhood pool. The vote yes folks want to take more than that amount every year from our family so they can spend it on an arena so they can see Cher. I would rather keep that money and spend it on things that will improve my family's quality of life, rather than being forced (by means of a tax) to spend it on something that someone else wants. I don't think I have the right to tax my neighbor, so I can have his money spent on my desires. Taxes should go to serve the welfare and interests of the general public, not the desires of the politically connected few.

Great column by Jay Hancock of the Baltimore Sun about Boeing's quest for taxpayer-funded goodies. Some highlights:

Boeing denies that last part, of course. The corporate "site selection" charade includes the pretense that companies are not shaking down states and counties for "incentives" such as tax discounts, cheap loans, cash gifts, property grants and so forth.

"Boeing has not asked for any incentives," says Boeing spokeswoman Mary Hanson. "What a state has chosen to include as part of its proposal is its decision."

What a crock of kielbasa. Boeing knows it can expect corporate welfare of at least $100 million as states trip over each other with blandishments for a chance to build the company's new 7E7 jetliner. Any state that doesn't bend down to get spanked will not be considered. ...

Orchestrating the bake-off is Boeing agent McCallum Sweeney Consulting, the hired guns who helped separate $300 million from Mississippi taxpayers three years ago so that Nissan Motor Co. would build an SUV and minivan plant there.

Extracting incentives from reluctant governments is McCallum's specialty.

In a deal three years ago for an Alabama Navistar engine factory, the "incentive package negotiated was four times larger than [that of a] Honda assembly plant" one-fourth the size, McCallum brags on its Web site.

The smorgasbord of taxpayer giveaways McCallum can secure for your firm, according to its promotional material, includes "tax abatements," "tax credit," "tax exemptions," "grants," "site development," "interest subsidies," "capital contributions," "special tax rating" "and more. ..."

This kind of racket has been going on for decades, of course. But the Boeing project is different in a way that cranks up the prurient interest and gall factor: States don't have money to pay for basic programs these days, let alone to give away to big corporations.

Michigan wants Boeing, but Michigan faces a projected deficit of $1.5 billion, has cut Medicaid, trimmed $127 million from state colleges and universities and is reducing its prison population. Texas wants Boeing, but Texas just dealt with a $10 billion revenue shortfall by cutting teacher health benefits and medical coverage for the working poor. ...

I know, I know. Corporate welfare apologists say the Boeing plant will generate spinoff jobs, taxes from new workers and other marginal revenue that will "pay back" the government giveaways.

This is sophistry. Revenue forgone is revenue forgone, and new factories and workers impose extra burdens on government that soak up any incremental taxes. The liberal argument against incentives - that they give taxpayer money to fat cats - is well known.

The lesser-heard conservative position clinches the case. By bending tax statutes into knots for whiny corporations, states tilt the business playground, maim pledges of equal treatment under the law and engage in Soviet-style economic planning. When is Congress going to do something about this?

Read the whole thing. And please note, this writer is focused on tax abatements, not on the kind of direct cash payments and loans that Tulsa voters are being asked to provide to Boeing.

I've been listening to a lot of otherwise intelligent folks spout a lot of nonsense lately. Rational in many respects, they have an irrational attachment to the notion that promised projects for the billion-dollar sales tax increase (September 9th is the election) will elevate Tulsa to the heights of prosperity. These same people believe that our current economic distress is the clear result of the decisions Tulsa voters made in 1997 and 2000 not to raise taxes to build downtown sports and convention facilities. The "vote yes" campaign and the Tulsa Whirled are both peddling this line.

From the Whirled's August 4th condemnation of the Republican and Democratic parties:

It’s hard to believe responsible party leaders could stand by and not notice how failure to vote for needed improvements has hurt the city, and still have to debate the small stuff.

Since when did Tulsa fail to vote for needed improvements? In the last 10 years, we've voted for over $1,000,000,000 in taxes for capital improvements for our city and our school system. That's not counting the tax hikes approved by suburban cities and schools. We didn't vote for the Whirled's pet project, but that's hardly a needed improvement, unless you believe in Cargo Cult Economics.

Then I received the following in an e-mail, author's name withheld to protect him/her from embarassment:

We are losing jobs and falling behind other cities. For example, ask yourself the famous Reagan question: “Is Oklahoma City better off today than ten years ago?” “Is Tulsa?” If the answer is yes to the first and no to the second, then one must admit that the MAPS plan in OKC has contributed to their success.

One must admit no such thing! This is a classic example of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc -- "Because A happened after B, therefore A was caused by B" -- bolstered by the selective consideration of evidence. Is Tulsa worse off than 10 years ago? Yes, it is, largely because of massive job losses in a couple of key industries. Are these job losses because we didn't raise taxes to build an arena in 1997 or 2000? No. Bernie Ebbers didn't decide to engage in shady business deals and run WorldCom into the gutter because Tulsa didn't build an taxpayer-funded arena. Bill Bartmann didn't ruin CFS with his shady deals because the Tulsa Project was defeated. Williams Communications didn't go bankrupt because we didn't expand our convention center. And Al-Qaeda didn't decide to use an American Airlines jet to blow up the World Trade Center because the Rolling Stones wouldn't perform in Tulsa. Yet these are the causes of most of the job losses we have suffered in the last 10 years, added to the overall "tech wreck" which affected San Jose (which has an arena and major league hockey, as well as a major amphitheatre, and plenty of entertainment options) even more deeply than Tulsa.

During World War II, inhabitants of some South Pacific islands noticed that Americans came, built runways and control towers, and then planes landed and brought useful cargo. When the Americans left, they thought that, by imitating the Americans, they could repeat the prosperity they briefly enjoyed. So they cleared runways, built control towers (complete with controllers wearing wooden headphones), set out night landing lights, built model cargo planes, and raised the American flag each day, in hopes that the cargo planes would come back with material riches. Here in Tulsa the cargo-cult view of life expresses itself in phrases like, "If we build it, they will come," and, "We have to do something." Whether in Papua New Guinea or Utica Square, the same logical fallacy is at work.

The cargo cults still exist. Here is a site devoted to the John Frum movement on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, and here's an article by Mike Jay on the history of the Tanna cult.

Lawrence's analysis of what was going on came to constitute a template for what seemed to Westerners an inexplicable and repetitive complex of delusions. First came 'cargo belief': the apocalyptic conviction that the world was about to turn upside down, the islanders finally receiving the material rewards of the white planters and administrators who were currently enjoying the fruits of the black man's labours. Then, even more puzzling, came 'cargo ritual': new religious practices designed to reel in the cargo by magical repetition of the acts which were currently bringing it to the white man. All over, islanders were downing tools, clearing airstrips in the jungle, building imitation radio masts out of bamboo, scouring their bibles for hidden messages, even sitting around politely drinking afternoon tea. If it worked for the white man, so the theory went, it would work for them.

All across the region, colonial governments cracked down hard, rounding up the cargo prophets and imprisoning them. Planters and other Western commercial interests, who coined the term 'cargo cult', saw it all as madness which demonstrated the ignorance and superstition of their workforce. More liberal whites attempted to explain to the locals that cargo wasn't produced by magic, but by hard work and the product of generations of technological progress, and the only way in which Melanesian societies were going to become rich in cargo was by working and earning it. To the locals, the subtext of this explanation was clear: the whites were politely refusing to give up the secret of their cargo.

Many people have drawn parallels between what we ridicule as primitive, irrational thinking, and the equally primitive and irrational thinking that influences the social sciences, city planning, public policy, and even computer programming in the "civilized" West. John FitzGerald, a Canadian writer, sees downtown shopping malls (remember the one Tulsa had?) as an example of cargo cult thinking:

The cargo cult is founded on a familiar, and popular, bit of fallacious reasoning: post hoc ergo propter hoc. The residents of Papua, Yaliwan, Vanuatu and other places noticed that when the colonial occupiers built wharves and airstrips, the wharves and airstrips were soon visited by ships and airplanes which delivered cargos of goods. They concluded that the ships and airplanes arrived as a consequence of the building of the wharves and airstrips, so they built their own wharves and airstrips in the expectation of receiving their own cargoes.

This reasoning seems naive to us, since we already know that the correct chain of reasoning is the reverse: the wharves and airstrips were built because ships and airplanes were going to be arriving. However, in dealing with that which is new to us, just as wharves and airstrips were new to Melanesians, we draw exactly the same conclusions about it.

An example of this type of thinking is the shopping mall. The first shopping malls were tremendously profitable. As a result, people concluded that if they too built shopping malls, they too would make tremendous profits. As a result, we soon had a shopping mall on nearly every block. Retail space expanded enormously, and eventually the retail industry collapsed under its own weight. Retail chains closed and downsized, their unsustainable outlets either replaced by dollar stores or left permanently empty.

Today, Wellington Square in London, Ontario, the first shopping mall in this country, bloated to three or four times its original size and given a trendier name, lies dying in the centre of a downtown which it has already killed. On Saturdays the retail staff in the few stores that are open outnumber the customers. In Toronto, the Eaton Centre has transformed the retail neighbourhood around it into a vast bazaar of dollar stores, adult book stores, and fast food franchises.

And here's a link to a lengthy excerpt on the web of Richard Feynmann's observations on cargo cult science, well worth reading.

When I was invited to participate in TulsaNow, when the Mayor's vision process began, as Tulsa hosted national experts in urban design and development, I was hopeful that we were finally moving away from the cargo-cult mentality and becoming capable of clear-headed and evenhanded analysis of Tulsa's real challenges and what we must do to overcome them. Perhaps I was too hopeful. There's not much difference between "If we build it, they will come," and "John Frum, he still come."

The Seattle Times has a special 7E7 website with an archive of articles, and profiles of the states competing for the 7E7. You can even sign up for e-mail updates.

Here are some excerpts from >a story about North Carolina's bid for the 7E7 facility, using an expensive, underperforming industrial park near Kinston, about 90 miles inland from Wilmington's harbor. Note the numbers -- 50,000 jobs promised, $80 million spent (only $1,600 a job) but only 200 jobs actually generated -- $400,000 per job, which is still a bargain compared to the $1,000,000 per job Oklahoma is bidding for the Boeing 7E7 facility.

KINSTON, N.C. — With much anticipation, North Carolina and the federal government invested roughly $80 million on a sprawling airport industrial park among the fields of corn and tobacco here, 70 miles from the ocean.

Backers said it would produce 50,000 jobs for a depressed 13-county area dependent on the declining tobacco and textile industries.

But after 11 years, the hoped-for economic renaissance has yet to materialize. The 2,000-acre Global TransPark has attracted no major tenants, but it has become a poster child for critics of taxpayer-financed megadevelopments.

It has produced just 200 jobs. Right now, the most visible sign of an aerospace industry is an air-cargo company's maintenance facility, which dismantles old 747s for parts.

Still, the site, with great transportation links and built-in training facilities, was designed for exactly the kind of high-tech manufacturing operation that Boeing's 7E7 would require. A state official last week claimed it's in the running. ...

Others, while welcoming the attention, say the project won't rise and fall on any one company. "One of the mistakes of the past was trying to hit the home run," said Eugene Conti, vice chairman of the Global TransPark Authority. "We are now focusing on singles and doubles."

You will recall that the City hired Conventions, Sports, and Leisure to examine the feasibility of a remodeled convention center and a new downtown sports arena. Although we may qualify for a few more events if we build a ballroom and add a few meeting rooms, we still won't attract the big money events.

CSL surveyed convention planners for different types of conventions. 67.0% of national association convention planners surveyed said they would not be likely to use an expanded and renovated downtown Tulsa Convention Center. 85.3% of corporate convention and tradeshow planners surveyed said they would not be likely to use the expanded facility. Corporate shows and tradeshows are the really lucrative events, where attendees are traveling on expense accounts. Even 55% of Oklahoma groups said they would not be likely to use an expanded convention center.

The only category that gave us a majority positive response was the SMERFs -- social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal groups. 47.4% said they would possibly use the expanded convention center; 31.6% said not likely. These are events like reunions, hobby group meetings. SMERF attendees are spending their own money -- they drive rather than fly, stay at budget accommodations and share rooms, stay for shorter periods (weekend events, rather than full weeks), and eat at less expensive restaurants. They also tend to be smaller groups, and by pursuing them, the convention center is competing directly with privately-owned hotel convention facilities like the Sheraton, Marriott, Doubletree and Renaissance.

Here's why conventions don't want to come to Tulsa, from the CSL National/Regional Rotating Event Survey, 2002, with the percentage of respondents with an interest in Tulsa who mentioned the reason, followed by a comment.

"Air access to Tulsa is quite limited, inconvenient and expensive." [9%]

Great Plains Airlines hasn't been able to fix this problem yet, despite all the tax money they've received.

"We prefer the use of hotel event space for our functions. It works well having meals, meetings and hotel rooms all under one roof." [12%]

We still might get these groups to Tulsa, but just not to the downtown convention center.

"Our association only rotates to Tier-I cities." [16%]

Can't do anything about that. OKC won't get these conventions either.

"Our association prefers beach resort destinations for our annual event." [6%]

Again, not much a landlocked city can do.

"Tulsa does not offer sufficient visitor amenities and entertainment options to attract attendees to our event." [20%]

All the yeasayers say, "Aha! But if we build an arena we will have all the visitor amenities and entertainment options we need!" Eight concerts a year (maybe) and minor league hockey will not satisfy that demand. These people are looking for major tourist attractions, exciting urban districts with restaurants and clubs, and probably a certain amount of sleaze of the sort more readily found in Las Vegas, New York, and New Orleans. We have a couple of world class museums and a great zoo, but they're closed nearly every night. We have the start of a couple of good urban districts. I don't think most Tulsans want the sleaze, even if it does attract tourists.

"We do not have enough delegates in the area for Tulsa to be considered as a potential destination." [24%]

This is at the heart of what convention planners want -- people who will pay money to come to their convention. It doesn't matter to the planner whether the attendees come from near or far, as long as they pay their registration fees and walk through the exhibit hall. A city with a large core group of potential delegates gives a planner a headstart in meeting the target -- particularly for a business convention, because businesses won't mind sending their people to a conference if they don't have to pay for travel, lodging, and meals. Of course, the very thing that makes the planners happy makes the host city sad. Local delegates don't bring new money into the economy. The only convention segment where we have a large group of potential attendees -- Charismatic conventions.

And the CSL study projects that the convention center, renovated and expanded, will still lose $2 million per year, money that comes out of the City of Tulsa's general fund.

At the TulsaNow forum, I recited the rather boring list of concerts and events that Oklahoma City's Ford Center has on its schedule for the next year. Karen Keith responded that the reason there wasn't much on the Ford Center calendar is because Oklahoma City is still using the old Myriad (now the Cox Business Services Convention Center) for some concerts. I doubted that, but didn't have the info at my fingertips.

So I checked the calendar of the Cox Business Services Convention Center. No concerts from now through the end of the year.

Not only that, but there aren't any big conventions being held there either. The National Rural Water Association and the PEO Sisterhood are the only apparently national organizations meeting there for the remainder of the year. There are a number of state organizational meetings -- meetings OKC already got before the Myriad had its facelift, meetings Tulsa will rarely get because OKC is a more convenient location for organizations with a statewide membership.

But like Tulsa's downtown convention center, the Myriad is competing with hotels and suburban centers for conventions. The new Reed Center in Midwest City is sized for smaller conventions and surrounded by moderately priced hotel rooms. The Oklahoma Republican Party held its 2003 convention there. 2001 and 2002 meetings were held at the Meridian Convention Center, part of the Clarion Hotel near the airport. The 2000 convention was the last time we used the Myriad, as far as I can recall.

So why isn't OKC getting the big national conventions with the big payoffs? Maybe it's because the national convention industry is losing steam. Maybe it's because the same reasons that convention planners gave for not coming to Tulsa apply to OKC as well, even with the remodeled facilities. More on that in the next entry.

Tulsa Now forum


Did you miss me? I've been catching up on work, sleep, life, and yard work the past few days.

Thursday night was the Tulsa Now Dialogue on Vision 2025. The yeasayers were represented by Karen Keith of the Mayor's Office and Paul Wilson, president of Twenty First Properties. Paul was on the Dialog / Visioning 2025 Leadership Team. Former County Assessor Jack Gordon and I represented the opposition to the sales tax.

When I arrived Karen was reviewing what appeared to be a script with Lee Gould of Schnake Turnbo Frank, the PR firm handling the vote yes campaign. It looked to be about 20 pages, in big bold capital letters, the kind of script that TV news anchors read from. Sure enough, when it was time for the vote yes side to make an opening statement, Karen stood up and read the whole thing. Most people can't get away with that, but as an experienced broadcast professional, she read with energy, and she read it as quickly as possible, but it took at least 10 minutes -- twice as long as the time allotted.

There were about 100 people packed into the room. It was clear by the Vote Yes lapel stickers that most of the people present had their minds made up. There were a few friendly faces in the crowd, including my wife and parents. Before we began I steadied my nerves by mentally singing through "A Mighty Fortress".

I'm going to write in separate entries about some specific issues that came up, but in this entry I'll mention a couple of overall themes. The vote yes side kept returning to the phrase "jobs, education, economic development". I saw the PR guy nodding and smiling every time Paul or Karen uttered that phrase -- "Ah, yes, they're staying on message."

As for our themes: I said that this sales tax proposal is not the culmination of the vision process, but a detour and a distraction from it. Jack spoke eloquently about the impact of this regressive tax on low- and moderate-income families, and the fiscal irresponsibility of a plan that will cause us to pay $200 million in interest, money that will leave Oklahoma to pay bondholders. We both spoke about opportunities to fund the most important projects without raising sales taxes.

One question that really got to me: "If we don't pass this on September 9, what does Tulsa have that would make any company want to locate here?" I said that whoever asked this question must be stuck in Tulsa against his will. I love this city, I chose to return here after college, and it has wonderful qualities and wonderful people. It disappoints me to hear people expressing despair about our city, and the vote yes crowd trying to feed that despair. Later it brought to mind that old Rodney Dangerfield line -- "I was such an ugly baby that my mother had to tie a steak around my neck just to get the dog to play with me." Do people really think Tulsa is such an awful place that we have to offer hundreds of millions of cash and build an arena so that companies will like us?

More later.

An observant reader writes about the recent simulated sales tax holiday at Tulsa's Promenade:

[My wife] and I noticed that sales boomed at Promenade Mall when all the stores effectively reduced taxes to zero. This is a perfect, community specific case study of the impact of taxes on consumer spending. Since consumer spending in Tulsa increases with decreased taxes, it is logical to assume that spending will decrease with increased taxes. Additionally, if we were to check on sales at Woodland Hills mall, which probably charged taxes that day, I'd guess that sales dropped measurably. The conclusion: Spending will flow to the lowest cost supplier. If Tulsa increases its taxes, then consumer spending will both decrease and flow to some lower cost city.

I imagine that Bartlesville's sales tax relief drive the same weekend provided an incentive for Tulsa malls to match the offer, to keep Tulsans from making the short drive to Bartlesville to make their back-to-school buys.

Another friend tells me that she defers clothes purchases until she visits family in Minnesota every year -- no sales tax on clothing in the North Star State.

My family spent more than we planned at the outlet mall on a visit to Delaware a few years ago -- no sales tax at all in that state. They even advertise that on their state road maps. Here's a bit from a column defending Delaware's tax structure:

I heard it whispered at cocktail parties, when I was still welcome at them, that Delaware tax structure is incomplete without a sales tax. Those who whisper are fat enough to pay a sales tax and have plenty left over to hope for the best in the bond market.

The burden of a sales tax would fall heaviest on those who have little money to spend on anything that wouldn't be subject to a tax. Before I am accused of fomenting class struggle, I should note that a number of Delawareans have earned fortunes by the absence of a sales tax in the First State.

The right-wingers, including columnist George Will, a fine baseball writer, nonetheless call my arguments "the politics of envy." I call it "the politics of fairness."

This right-winger says, "Amen, brother."

Here's a map showing weighted average sales tax rates around the country.

Debate dodging


The yeasayers are running away from debates and forums, and even from innocuous neutral events. This is the same tactic they used in 2000: If they can deny the opposition a chance to be heard, the weakness of their arguments won't be exposed, and people will only hear their side of the story, by means of their massive media budget.

In 2000, most of the media outlets submitted to this tactic. When the vote yes side would refuse to show up, the station would say, "Well, we can't hold a debate with only one side, so we're cancelling the debate." The vote-yes bullies count on this kind of response.

In 2000, two media outlets showed some guts: KRMG 740 and KWHB (channel 47) both held debates, and when the vote yes side refused to send a participant, they said, "Fine. We'll go ahead without you." In both cases, a proponent showed up to debate -- Jim Norton and Sam Roop, respectively.

This year looked to be different, but the yeasayers have started to back out of debates. TulsaNow went through considerable difficulty to find two proponents (Karen Keith and Paul Wilson) who would appear at tomorrow night's Harwelden event.

A few days ago, I received word from KTUL Channel 8 that Mayor LaFortune has backed out of their debate, scheduled for September 2. The Mayor will instead be appearing on a Cox Cable "town hall forum", at which only one side of the issue will be presented. Sadly, KTUL chose to back down, rather than proceed and have the proponents send another representative. Instead of presenting a live debate, in which voters could hear a free and unfiltered exchange of views, with opportunities for each side to rebut the other, KTUL will air a pre-packaged "special", featuring edited interviews with proponents and opponents.

Today, I heard that the PR guys for the vote-yes crowd have spoiled a planned press conference to promote a voter registration drive. From now until the registration deadline, Arvest Banks in Tulsa will make voter registration forms available at each branch. There was to be a press conference tomorrow at 11:30 at Arvest's downtown branch, featuring the President of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, Arvest President Don Walker, Mayor Bill LaFortune, and Tulsa County Coalition Co-Chairman Jim Hewgley. This wouldn't be a debate, just all sides coming together to encourage people to register to vote.

All of a sudden, something came up and the Mayor couldn't make it. Evidently it was too much trouble to stop by 5th & Main on his way from 5th & Denver to 5th & Boston. Commissioner Bob Dick couldn't come either. I have heard third- or fourth-hand that the PR flack for the vote-yes campaign was contacted about providing another proponent for the event. He is reported to have blasted Jim Hewgley and to have said that they wouldn't appear at any event with naysayers.

It's strange to me that the Mayor would dodge opportunities for debate. He was an assistant Attorney General, District Attorney, and a zoning attorney. He knows how to present a case to a jury and shouldn't be intimidated at the thought of debating some amateur. And he must appreciate that debate is a crucial feature of our system of justice and our political system.

Beyond the Mayor's courtroom experience, he has an extra advantage: This case wasn't thrust upon him. He was a participant in setting the circumstances and parameters of the case. He professes to believe in it passionately. So why not stand and fight, rather than run away? Is this his own instinct, or is he being dictated to by campaign gurus?

Yesterday evening, I was asked by KJRH to tape a brief interview about the Vision 2025 campaign "taking the show on the road". There was a "town hall meeting" at the Broken Arrow Library sponsored by Leadership Broken Arrow.

I met the Channel 2 team at the library and decided spur of the moment to stay for part of the meeting. Only the yeasayers were invited to make a presentation. The head of the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce (can't recall his name, but he bears a remarkable facial resemblance to Susan Savage) was the MC.

First on the agenda was a video infomercial, featuring "ordinary Tulsans" urging a yes vote and predicting dire consequences if we vote no. The infomercial featured schmaltzy background music, designed to manipulate the viewer's mood.

(If your civic organization has scheduled one of these "town hall" meetings, thinking it's going to be a balanced, neutral informational presentation, you're in for a surprise. If you want your members to get a balanced perspective, insist that your officers invite a representative from the opposition to speak at the same meeting. Call 836-0142 or e-mail voteno2025@usa.com to schedule a speaker.)

Next, Mickey Thompson, head of economic development for the Metro Tulsa Chamber, spoke about the Boeing and American Airlines propositions. He began with a chart showing that Tulsa's unemployment rate now matches the national average, after lagging a couple of points behind for most of the last five years. He said that the Tulsa region has lost 28,000 jobs over the last two years.

After a bit more, in which he mentioned layoffs at WorldCom and Williams, I raised my hand.

[I did not have a tape recorder, so this is my best recollection of how the conversation proceeded.]

"Mickey, how many of those jobs lost were related to aerospace?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe about 2,000." After a wary pause, he continued. "What's your point?"

"We're going to spend a billion dollars if this thing passes, and a large chunk of it is going to try to lure aerospace jobs to Tulsa. Is there anything in this package to address the other 26,000 jobs we lost? Is there anything here to try to regain the kind of jobs we lost at WorldCom and Williams?"

"No. The opportunity we have right now is to attract Boeing and keep American. At some time in the future there may be an opportunity to attract IT [information technology] jobs and we'll pursue that aggressively when the time arises. I have no idea what we can do right now to regain those jobs."

"If an opportunity arises in the future, how would we finance an incentives package to attract IT jobs? Would we go to the voters with another tax increase?"

"I sincerely doubt voters would have the appetite for another tax increase."

"Thank you for making my point."

(Sarcastically.) "Well, I'm glad I helped you make your point."

My point, in case you missed it, is that all the money we're spending will not help the segment of the economy most damaged by the current economic crisis. It will not keep our high-tech workers from being scattered to the four winds. And if we do have a chance to pursue high-tech jobs, we won't have the money to go after those jobs aggressively, because we'll have already committed a billion dollars to Vision 2025.

Imagine an F5 tornado cut a wide swath through Tulsa, from Carbondale to Catoosa, destroying thousands of homes. Then imagine that our city leaders announced that all the Federal relief money would go to rebuild one neighborhood in a flood plain; nothing would be spent on damaged homes in any other part of the city. The city leaders might say, "Rebuilding homes in this neighborhood will stimulate the economy, which will indirectly help the other folks who lost their homes. Never mind that the rebuilt houses are likely to be flooded." The Boeing deal involves the same kind of thinking.

My "no" vote is pro-Tulsa


I received an e-mail from someone who supported my campaign for City Council last year. He expressed confusion that I would aggressively oppose a program he considers good for Tulsa. I sent him a lengthy reply, and I thought it would be worth posting here:

Thank you for writing and expressing your concern. I can understand why you might be confused at my opposition, as the Tulsa World and John Erling have been portraying anyone opposed to this package as thoughtless, knee-jerk naysayers. Both media sources have taken long, thoughtful interviews and extracted soundbites that reinforce their caricature of the opposition. I want to assure you, particularly since you supported my campaign for City Council last year, that my opposition to this sales tax increase is not motivated by petty concerns or personal ambition, but by a desire to see Tulsa move forward with wisdom and true vision.

Like you, I want good things for Tulsa. There are things that Tulsa needs to be doing now to lay a good foundation for the future. While many people believe we just need to do something, I believe we need to do something effective. That was at the heart of my campaign for City Council.

I have been involved in this vision process since before it officially began, serving as a coordinator for TulsaNow, as a facilitator at the Mayor's Vision Summit, and on the Downtowns and Neighborhoods task force of the Dialog / Visioning process.

I have been involved in studying issues of economic and urban development for many years, looking at what has brought real success and real vitality to cities around the world. Jane Jacobs' landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities; Roberta Brandes Gratz's Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown; and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist's The Wealth of Cities, are among the books that have influenced my thinking, along with the work of academics like Professor Heywood Sanders, a leading expert on the convention industry, journalists like Joel Kotkin, an expert on the impact of the digital economy on competition between cities, and city planners like Vicki Noteis, who led a truly grass-roots process of vision building in Kansas City in the mid-'90s, a process that continues today.

Along with many other Tulsans, I tried to advance those ideas through this process. Unfortunately, the final package was not driven by grass-roots priorities or by the advice of the many experts who have visited Tulsa and given their counsel, but by the same interest groups who put together the 1997 and 2000 packages.

While there are some good ideas in this package -- projects that should be added to our capital improvements "wish list" -- very little is truly visionary, and the bulk of the money will be spent on economic development strategies which will not position Tulsa for future success. As to the specifics:

Boeing: Spending over $1 million per job (including Tulsa's $350 million and the state's rumored $650 million in Boeing incentives) is too high a price to pay, and it only makes Tulsa even more dependent on the perilous state of the commercial aviation industry. Boeing manufacturing jobs won't employ the thousands of high-tech workers displaced by problems at WorldCom and Williams. Tulsa should be diversifying its economy. It makes more sense to leave that money in the hands of Tulsa's taxpayers, for the free market to allocate, rather than letting politicians take it and redistribute it to one company with good lobbyists.

American: I support the Utility Board's recent decision to cut water rates for large industrial users out of city, and to build a sewer line that will serve American and other customers along North Mingo Road. These incentives do help American specifically, but other businesses can also take advantage of them. The sewer line will pay for itself by connecting more paying customers to our system. I cannot condone direct payments to a favored company, which is what the $22.3 million on the ballot amounts to. AA has committed 10 times that amount for naming rights for arenas in Dallas and Miami.

Arena / convention center / higher education: I lobbied hard to get this package broken into logical pieces, but supporters of an arena were determined to tie their pet project to more popular items. Some of the higher education proposals seem worthwhile, but the bulk of this tax will go to fund a new downtown arena and convention center expansion. I have read the feasibility study prepared by Convention, Sports, and Leisure cover-to-cover, and it reveals that better facilities will not draw lucrative national conventions to Tulsa, nor will it draw many major concerts. An expanded downtown convention center would continue to lose $2 million a year, money that comes out of the city's already-tight general fund. CSL projected the arena to make money, but the projection is grounded in selling an unrealistic number of luxury boxes and premium seats for minor league sports. Beyond the economic flaws, I cannot justify taking tax dollars from everyone to build entertainment facilities for a few. Entertainment should be left to the free market.

If the higher ed proposals truly have merit, we should work aggressively for state funding, then if necessary supplement that funding with a bond issue targeted to completing those facilities.

Community infrastructure: Many good projects in this package, but none urgent enough to deserve a tax increase now. In 2004, the City will seek a new general obligation bond issue to replace expiring bonds. In 2006, we will renew the 3rd penny and "4 to Fix the County". These are opportunities to fund worthy projects without raising taxes.

Beyond the pros and cons of the ballot items, I do not believe it makes economic sense to raise taxes now, when the Federal government is trying to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes. In fact, it is cruel to raise the cost of living on the thousands of unemployed and underemployed Tulsans who are working two and three jobs to make ends meet.

What should we be doing? Link up with OKC to get state government to reform our tax structure and workers' comp laws, to make Oklahoma a better place to start and grow a business. At the city level, implement the performance review recommendations to make city government more effective and efficient, so that Tulsa will be a better place to live and do business. Aggressively work with local business to find jobs for displaced high-tech workers -- they are our city's intellectual capital, and we are losing them to Texas and elsewhere, because they can't find work here. Work with private funding sources to develop small-business incubators -- encourage innovative ideas that start small but have the potential to grow big. Continue the long-term program to encourage new residential development downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods. And finally, develop a comprehensive long-term strategic plan -- not just a list of projects, but addressing the challenges of the next 25 years -- Kansas City has a successful model that we could follow. None of this requires much in the way of public money, and all of it could be done without a tax increase.

There are many good people who sincerely believe that this sales tax program is a good plan. I disagree, but I respect their sincere good intentions for our city. I hope that this message conveys that those who oppose the sales tax are also sincere in desiring the best for our city.


Michael Bates

Julie Del Cour, in today's Whirled, makes hay about Tulsa hosting Barney, while Oklahoma City gets all the great concerts.

Check out the events calendar for Oklahoma City's Ford Center over the next few months. This month features Bullnanza, the Wiggles (a favorite among Barney fans -- Anthony of the Wiggles is my nearly-three-year old daughter's first crush), and American Idols Live. September -- nothing. October and November -- nothing but minor league hockey. December -- hockey and the Gaithers Homecoming Concert -- great for gospel music fans, but hardly the kind of cutting edge entertainment that we are told Tulsa must offer to keep our young people here. And Bill and Gloria Gaither fans are not the sort of crowd that will fill Arnie's Bar after the show is over. (Anyway, Tulsa had the Gaither concert last year, and they will return in October 2004 to the Mabee Center.)

January -- minor league hockey and the Globetrotters. (We get them, too, the night before, at the Mabee Center. And by the way, your vote for Proposition 4 will fund the demolition of the Sand Springs neighborhood where Globetrotter legend Marques Haynes grew up.) February and March -- minor league hockey. April, May, and June -- nothing at all.

So where are all the big name acts? Have they decided Oklahoma City isn't worth the trouble of unloading the tour buses?

Should we raise our taxes by a billion dollars just so our three-year-olds can see their favorite Australian TV stars live? Would preschool Wiggles fans spend big bucks drinking at Bad Girls, Inc., after the show?

And where are bands like Aerosmith playing this summer? Amphitheatres. Wasn't there some guy who wanted to build an amphitheatre near Sand Springs with private (not taxpayer) money? Why weren't our local leaders rolling out the red carpet for him?

And in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the hot acts are playing privately owned venues like the Smirnoff Music Center amphitheatre (owned by House of Blues) (list of concerts here), and Next Stage, a state-of the-art concert hall (list of concerts here).

UPDATE: Tulsa has bigger names coming to the Cain's Ballroom over the next six months than the Ford Center has over the next year: Dwight Yoakum, Merle Haggard, Michael Martin Murphy, and Leon Russell. Jerry Lee Lewis is at the Greenwood Jazz Festival next weekend, and Kansas will play the Brady Village Stage the following Friday night. Click here for a list of concerts in Tulsa over the next few months. Now these may not be the hottest acts right now, but hot acts aren't showing up on OKC's calendar either.

Anyone out there still believe that there's nothing fun to do in Tulsa? Put down that remote and go out and see for yourself.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa::Vision2025 category from August 2003.

Tulsa::Vision2025: July 2003 is the previous archive.

Tulsa::Vision2025: September 2003 is the next archive.

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