Wednesday, November 25, 2009

MAPS' primary opposition

Most surprising to me is the turn of events that suddenly MAPS is being attacked from two different sides, taking heat from your run of the mill civic malcontents, and from the police and fire unions who see money up for grabs. Is support for MAPS strong enough to take a battering from two sides?

Every year 2/3 of the General Fund is spent on public safety, in addition to to a 3/4ths of a penny dedicated sales tax (almost the same as the penny MAPS tax) -- together these combine for about $290 million a year spent on public safety in OKC. After we passed the 3/4ths penny sales tax in the early 90s, we became one of the cities with the best-funded public safety in the nation..something we appreciated dearly on April 19, 1995. So that leads us to today, where we must ask ourselves the question, how dare we force the heroes of the Murrah bombing to take a 2% pay cut in order for MAPS 3?

Today most of those cops with beefed up patrols, brand-new equipment, shiny new cars, are being told by the union to put these "Not this MAPS" signs in their front lawns because the fire and police unions want the MAPS penny to go to them. It's union politics at its best. And as for the pay cut, a cop who has been on the force for one year makes over $40,000. Sergeants start at $54,000. Firefighters in OKC make similar salaries, and after several years on the force, make on average around $75,000 a year for a part-time job where they work 4 days out of the week (many have been known to get second jobs). And they are not required to live in the city limits of the city that pays their salary, ether.

For anyone curious about how sales tax in OKC is broken down, this is how:
State: 4.5%
City: 3.875%

2% - General Fund (Permanent)
1% - MAPS penny (Temporary)
.75% - Public Safety (Permanent)
.125% - OKC Zoo (Permanent)

Here's another even more radical concept: the MAPS penny and public safety are two completely unrelated subjects altogether. The police and fire unions, who want more money after the City wants to cut back on their 2% raises this year, are just sticking it to the city where it hurts them the most, the MAPS campaign.. unfortunately the collateral damage is the city that they are sworn to protect. The truth is that not having a 2% raise is a lot better than the rest of the city departments are getting, so public safety is lucky in all honesty. If I were Jim Couch I would actually cut their budget. Other departments are going through hiring freezes, some workers have been laid off, albeit not nearly as sharply as has happened in other cities. The fact of the matter is that municipal governments have to stay out of the red just as much as any company does, and sometimes that effects the workers.

The city government can't just get China to buy its debt like the Federal government can, but on the bright side at least China doesn't literally own Oklahoma City.

More blatantly appalling is that MAPS funds are entirely separate from the General Fund or from dedicated public safety funds, and trying to distort the issue so that tax payers will think that MAPS will somehow worsen the shortfall for public safety is bad. And it's unethical, from a public policy perspective, and I just hope OKC voters aren't stupid enough to be had by the unions. I guess when you're a union ethics just go out the window, though. How do we know for a fact that the union is just using MAPS as a bargaining chip with the city? Read this:

They say they want two things: they want their contract issues resolved, and they want the MAPS items to stand on their own for election. Which one do they really want? Probably their contract issues to be resolved so they can collect their 2% raise before the Holidays. Do they care if the MAPS items stand on their own? Probably not (unless they still want that MAPS money for themselves after they get their raise), if so, why? Why are the police and fire unions even caring to get involved in public debates over completely unrelated issues? Should we start consulting the police and fire unions on how to fund schools, roads, and other things as well? What is the official union position on gay marriage, abortion, and teaching evolution in the schools? Have the unions written an entire voter's manual telling cops and firefighters who to vote into office? The answer is that all of those questions are preposterous, just as their involvement in MAPS 3 is.

If OKC fails MAPS 3, has public safety in OKC benefited? No, it hasn't, in fact, it harms public safety. If OKC doesn't continue MAPS and sinks into a decline anywhere near as low as before MAPS, the reality is that our public safety issues just multiply. OKC should evaluate whether there are enough cops on the force, but even with that said, it's very untrue that numbers haven't increased in the last 15 years. And more, if they can't live with being one of the few forces in the nation that have a dedicated funding source, then they need to examine their budget for a change.

Also public safety would be conning their ownselves out of the $60 million in use taxes that they collect from MAPS. The use tax is the same as the MAPS tax rate, except it is applied to items brought into OKC and not bought directly in OKC, and the MAPS penny collected on use items has always gone straight to public safety.

Blackmail is the oldest trick in the book. "Pay us and nothing bad will happen. Don't pay us, well, you don't want to not pay us."

No comments: