Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Top 10 Reasons to Vote No"

The opposition here is getting rather incredulous. Here's some of the main points on, and I'll just refute each of these item-by-item because they're all pretty stupid.
A Tax Cut Will Stimulate Oklahoma City's Economy with $80-90 Million in Additional Sales.

Voting “NO” gives a tax cut to the citizens of Oklahoma City starting April 1, 2010. The estimated cost of extending the MAPS tax is $10 a month per person. That's $120 a year or almost $500 a year for a family of four. Most of this money will be spent with other OKC merchants for goods and services more needed by families. What would an $80-90 million increase in sales mean to local businesses? Taxpayers and local businesses need the economic stimulus of a tax cut to survive this economic recession (depression?). Ironically, sales taxes on the new private sector sales increases because of the Maps tax cut stimulus will add $3 million a year or more to needed general funds for the City! Maybe we can hire more police.
Truth: Don't buy any of this because surely no one is stupid enough to believe that by not collecting $80-90 million sales tax that all of that money will go straight back into retail stores. The Reaganomics argument that a lower rate would increase revenues by $3 million is also bogus. By not collecting the MAPS tax, economic development in OKC suffers, and more and more retail will continue to leave OKC for Moore and Edmond. Do you know anyone who spends 100% of their money shopping? If you know someone, make sure they seek help.

Sales taxes are regressive.

Proportionally, sales taxes place a heavier burden on those with lower incomes. The upper and upper middle class people pushing MAPS3 ridicule those who complain over “a few dollars a month.” While they may have to give up a couple of lattes for Maps3, a working class family may have to give up a can of Spam, baby formula or new shoes. The OKC Elite want to increase the value of their downtown properties with more taxpayer subsidies. Those who least benefit have done enough for the!
That's debatable, because a sales tax taxes consumption. If the State Legislature wanted to draft a bill exempting groceries from sales tax, similarly to what they do down in Texas, that would be great. But still, even with the Oklahoma sales tax that applies to everything, it still taxes consumption..meaning the MORE you consume, the more tax you PAY. If all you consume is a can of spam, baby formula, and new shoes, you aren't paying that much sales tax, and you're probably sales tax exempt anyway. If you consume lattes (just going off of the examples gives) then you probably pay a lot more sales tax.

New Maps Projects Will Drive the City's Operating Budgets Deeper in the Hole.

All projects are for capital expenditures, with no provision for increased operating or maintenance costs. For instance, estimated operating costs for the street car are $3.5 million and the park $3 million.Moreover, even though OKC's population has grown, police and fire protection have not kept pace. We're short 200 police officers and 50 fire fighters. The City Council has called for 2% across the board spending cuts starting January, 2010. Further cuts are likely for the following year. The projected budget shortfall for five years is $10 million.
The problem with this argument is that it features two faulty implications: 1, that the city should stop adding facilities in general because they all come with operating budgets; and 2, that these amenities would be gigantic money drains themselves. I'm not even going to address the first one, because if someone really wants the City government to stop doing anything, that's tough to argue. But most of the original MAPS projects actually support themselves through ticket revenues for the TONS of events they host--the Bricktown Ballpark supports itself, the Ford Center easily supports itself, the Cox Convention Center supports itself, the Fairgrounds support themselves, the Civic Center Music Hall supports itself, and so on. In fact probably the only two projects that don't support themselves for their upkeep are the kitschy rubber-tire trolleys, because those were just a bad idea in the first place, and the Downtown Library--but it's hard to say that you don't need a library in downtown. And then, even if OKC was having to pay for the operating costs of these facilities, it would still be overwhelmingly worthwhile. You can't put a dollar value on quality of life, and that's what those facilities give us. I appreciate having a city where on any given night there are several good events going on downtown. Let's keep that kind of momentum going, and OKC will continue to be a spot of relief in the middle of a depressed country.

Maps3 is a Slush Fund for the City Council.

The Maps3 Tax is a blank check signed by the taxpayers. The MAP3 ordinance contains NO content. Instead, it refers to an Exhibit “A” that expresses their intent. There are no priorities or numbers associated with Exhibit “A”. Source: Council Agenda for Sept. 22, 2009. Five votes on the Council can change this intent at any time. The MAP3 program is totally fluid and subject to change.
The MAPS3 ordinance is not going to change, and the projects will not change. Any deviation from the list of projects that 8 out of 9 city councilors supported would result in a loss of integrity and all 9 of them would be voted out of office, including Brian Walters. The reason that we can't do exactly what we did in MAPS1 and MAPS for Kids is because of state law, which now prevents capital projects from being voted on together, so in order to keep the MAPS ballot as similar to the original MAPS that the public overwhelmingly supports looking back, they drafted a resolution for what the penny would be spent on and then just put the penny on the ballot. It's splitting hairs, but it's just in order to keep the MAPS ballot legal.

Mick Cornett's Maps3 Numbers are as Fraudulent as Harry Reid's Obamacare Numbers.

Cornett claims Maps3 will collect $100 million a year ($777 million for 93 months). OKC's highest annual sales tax revenue for a penny of sales tax was $92.5 million, years before the financial crisis. 2009 sales tax revenues have declined for 9 months in a row. November's distribution was 12.3% less than the same month a year ago. Further, the NBA Tax (Maps for Millionaires) is falling short about $8-10 million when it expires in March, 2010. Those funds are already committed and must be made up out from the overstretched general fund. This is a primary reason for the 2% budget cut.

Who cares about Harry Reid? Seriously, if someone has probably never even been to Oklahoma, why mention it in this debate? That's the most retarded thing I've ever seen. Harry Reid has nothing to do with MAPS. That's a Nancy Pelosi thing to say, what were you inspired by the Obama spirit to say that? Go back to California with that kind of talk. On the sales tax figures themselves, it's not true that the Big League City coming in short is the cause for the 2% budget cut. First of all, the collections did come in short, but that was practically a nonfactor because the practice facility bid that was selected was $10 million--when $20 million was budgeted. Second of all and most important, the reason for the proposed cuts are two-fold: firefighters make, on average, $78,000 a year for a part-time job (work 4 days out of the week) and get ridiculous overtime compensation, which is a luxury that OKC can't afford to keep paying the heroes of the Murrah Bombing during a recession. The reason we can't keep paying those kinds of wages during the recession is..and here's a really radical thought..because OKC isn't collecting as much sales tax as we were two years ago. This is partly due to the recession, but not so much as it is due to the fact that our retail is MOVING to Edmond and Moore. The city took a big hit when everything left Crossroads Mall a year ago, and H.B. 1804 (the immigration bill) also hurt the inner south side, and there are a lot of stores on the south side that have had to close because their business fled the state in fear of being deported. So for those reasons, we aren't collecting as much retail tax as we were 2 years ago, and that's definitely added incentive to PASS the MAPS3 initiative so that we can build up downtown retail that DOES compete with all the malls out in the suburbs.

The Most Popular Projects are Being Used to Sell the Least Popular.

In a poll sponsored by the Oklahoma Gazette and News 9, the most support was for the least expensive projects – outdoor facilities and sidewalks. The least support was for the most expensive project, a new convention center to replace the renovated Cox Center.
That's the way MAPS works, and the reason it has been so incredibly successful. Instead of a tangled web of special interests, MAPS is important because it gives the city a unified approach to civic improvement. Instead of an approach that gets people fighting over money and saying "no to anything other than my project" it creates the opportunity for "yes to all" and the entire city moves forward. If not for MAPS, then the city would not be unified. Downtown interests would be fighting Fairgrounds interests, who would be fighting welfare interests, who would be fighting education interests, and so on. This provides a win-win alternative to that kind of divisive bickering.

The Smaller Projects Will Be Cut First.
When projects need to be cut back, it will be the smaller, more popular projects that are cut back or eliminated first. Realistically, the larger projects cannot be shaved significantly without jeopardizing the entire project. How do you pare down a $280 million convention center or a $22 million a mile streetcar system? Moreover, the largest projects will have far more special interest favor than things like trails and sidewalks.
No projects are going to be cut. In the unlikely event that the MAPS tax falls short (it hasn't fallen short in a long time) instead of cutting projects the citizens may be asked to extend the tax for another 3 or 4 months in such an unlikely event. If the citizens turn down such a request, then we're probably going to have to cut projects, but that would be the will of the people. MAPS3 is unique in its planning because this includes a $17 million contingency fund in case more money is needed, and if it's not needed, then the contingency fund will be put into the general fund. Oh, and the streetcar is not $22 million a mile. The funding proposal is for $120 million, which will likely include 5-6 miles of streetcar, as well as an intermodal transit center (to tie all the modes of transit together) and possibly a commuter link from Bricktown to the Tinker AFB/Midwest City area. You do the math on how much per mile that is.

A “Temporary” Tax Needs to Expire.

If it doesn't expire, it is not temporary. When special interests speak of “keeping the momentum alive,” they really mean “let's not let the tax expire; we might not get it back.” The OKC Elite intend to keep extending the Maps Tax forever!

The tax is temporary because each time there is a proposal, the citizens vote on it, and the tax is then extended for a definite period of time until those goals are met. The tax is not arbitrarily being extended without citizen approval each time.

The Economy Continues to Slow. More Taxes Will Make It Worse!

The economic statistics are bleak and getting worse. Nationally foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment continue to worsen. At the state level, Oklahoma faces a $1 billion shortfall for next year. Oklahoma City is not immune. A recent report from OSU expects little or no growth in 2010 and more job losses in a “jobless recovery.” Taking more money out of the pockets of citizens to fund projects for the OKC Elite is the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.Oklahoma's unemployment is up to 7.2%. Taxpayers need a break! Oklahoma City needs the boost in spending from a tax cut. We don't need more taxes!
The unemployment rate in Michigan is 15.1% (as of October 2009) so I would say Oklahoma is doing pretty well. I would also argue that the bleak economic picture outside of Oklahoma in indisputable proof of what happens in communities that don't invest in economic development. Now is more than ever the time to invest in economic development, not just so that Oklahoma exits the recession poised for record growth, but also to prevent Oklahoma from slipping. The reason Forbes named us the most recession-proof city, Money named us the best city to start a business, and tons of other excellent rankings recently, is because we've invested in ourselves with economic devevelopment. Without MAPS and without the economic development we've focused on during the last 15 years, OKC would be at the bottom of the heap, which is exactly where we were in 1990 when companies were refusing to come to Oklahoma because they couldn't see why anyone would want to live here. OKC can't compete with other cities in terms of size, culture, or especially educational attainment, so that puts us at a disadvantage right off the bat--in order to Oklahoma to compete with other communities for jobs and development we have to do exceptionally well in other categories, particularly quality of life. By making drastic improvements in quality of life, OKC has made up for its deficiencies in other areas and risen to the status of a major player.

A New Convention Center Will Not Spur Economic Growth and Recovery. That's Magical Thinking!

First, the proposed $280 million is just little more than half of the projected total costs. Consultants estimate another $250 million will be needed to “finish” the convention center complex.
To "finish" the convention center complex, meaning a completely separate expansion to a facility that will already be huge, then yeah. That's a good thing because it shows that we're investing in a facility that we'll be able to use for a very long time, and that we won't have to abandon it due to it not being big enough or having room to expand like the Cox. The idea here is that this is the situation with the Cox, so let's get out of that situation and plan for the future so that we aren't in this expensive situation again with the convention center. It's called planning for the future, something that economic development opponents don't grasp. The reason we need the convention center is because convention centers are basic amenities that corporate America relies on. No corporation is going to relocate or expand in a city without a good convention center, so it's not just about the conventions themselves (that's a very short-sighted way of looking at it). But that's not to say that the conventions themselves aren't a very good thing either, because they are. Any study that downplays the convention center impact isn't completely taking into account the fact that dollars generated in another city are being spent/deposited/invested in YOUR city. That's pretty big. And then another intangible benefit of investing in a convention center is the exposure that it would mean for OKC. It puts us on a list of "Big League Cities" for business, to think of it in terms of majors and minors. For years OKC has been in the minor league of business, and in order to grow into a bigger, more prosperous, and healthier community, OKC will need to enter the majors. That's what this is about. If you aren't doing business, competing for business, attracting business, then you aren't taking care of your citizens. Your citizens are falling short in their potential and in their quality of life. That's why the convention center is needed.


Steve said...

I'm a suburb guy that is still undecided on how I will vote. Make these proposals 3 years ago and I'd say yeah, go for it! But now in these tougher economic times where the federal government wants to take more such as forced health insurance with large tax increases- and I really can't do much about it because far left Dems are in charge - I feel this is something I can say no to. It's not "fair" but it's the environment MAPS3 is in.

In addition it had hit me what really is OKC and who this benefits. If I understand it correctly, anyone with an OKC address can vote on this. The problem is that most of OKC is really a suburb (it expanded and annexed so far) and MAPS3 benefits mostly downtown where I don't spend most of my time. Tell me how suburb OKC will benefit from this, when I like going to Yukon, Quail Springs and Moore, more than the pay-to-park areas of Bricktown.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

Good points Steve, and thanks for posting the way you feel. Hopefully I've addressed some of this here, which I felt this response deserved its own blog post.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This post is filled with almost as many inaccurate statements as the Chambers Facts about MAPS website.