Those of you in the Tulsa area are likely aware that we’ll be voting on two Tulsa County propositions this Tuesday. Signs are up and the commercials are in heavy circulation. Water coolers all over town are empty from having hosted countless conversations Vision 2 conversations in recent weeks.

As I’ve at times been the media’s poster boy for the “anti-Vision” side, I figure it best to clarify my position in the few days remaining before the vote. I apologize for not doing this sooner. It’s been difficult for me to discern the best approach on this and I fear that I may have done a disservice by not being more vocal through the process. If I would have consented, our local media would have had me on TV and radio every day and I just didn’t want it to be about me. Also, many of the pro-Vision folks are taking it very personally and I’ve been troubled by the damage my opposition has caused to some those relationships.

Sadly, most people don’t even know the details about the propositions and will be voting with the TV commercials as their primary info source…and here we are, facing something that will affect the future of our city… My children will pay this tax as adults. I feel like I owe it to them to defend our great city and her beautiful potential.

Many of you who have supported me in the past have been confused to learn of my opposition. You’ve come to believe that I love Tulsa and passionate about its progress. Many of you know that I’m not some anti-tax, negative naysayer and that I was a proud supporter of Vision 2025. How could someone like me, who wants so badly for Tulsa to achieve its potential, possibly vote against a package like this?

I’ll tell you.

Here goes.

1. The deal-closing fund.  (My biggest issue with it.)

  • The deal-closing fund is uncapped. Both parts of the proposition that address the airport have caps, which means any excess collections automatically roll into the deal closing fund. The estimates the Vision2 folks are putting out there have that deal-closing fund at around 53 million. That estimate assumes that the years from 2017-2029 will be exactly like 2012 financially. That’s a ridiculous way to estimate that. Even assuming that a rate of inflation similar to what we’ve had over the last 12 years (remember that there was a recession or two in there) puts that deal-closing fund at an estimated 170 plus million dollars…which is a ton of money.
  • I worry that the way they are planning to administer the deal-closing fund carries the strong potential to leave Tulsa underrepresented. The proposed make-up of the allocation board calls for area mayors, County Commissioners, and the Mayor of Tulsa. Theoretically, this board ends up being Tulsa against the suburbs; an all to common situation these days…and Tulsa loses in this scenario. As the city of Tulsa makes up the majority of the people in the area, it seems odd to me that suburban mayors (most of whom represent fewer people than I do) would be so well represented by comparison. Just so I’m clear, I’m not saying they shouldn’t have a voice, but it seems like the representation should be proportionate.
  • I think throwing our hat in the “deal closing game” with other cities shows no leadership, creativity or vision. We’re late to the party and The Chamber is basically making the case that we should do it because other cities are doing it. I’d love to see us thinking of things that others aren’t doing. Tulsa should be leading, not following Wichita, Little Rock, Omaha and Oklahoma City. I’m not at all inspired by “catching up” to those guys. I think we have a real opportunity to do something bold with our capital project packages…I hate it that we’re doing something so utterly predictable.
  • Trying to grow our city’s employment base by paying companies to come here (or buying or building things for them), ensures that we’ll attract the kind of companies who can be bought. I’m just not into building Tulsa’s economic future on the backs of companies we lured here with money. Better to meet a nice girl and settle down than to…pay for one…right? I’d rather see us be the best city in the world to start a business, grow a company, raise a family, etc. There are things we could be doing to grow new industries, support small business development, inspire entrepreneurship, etc., and we won’t have to worry about those folks packing up and leaving for the highest bidding community because they have roots here.
  • Last point on this one: Does it bother anyone else that our area leadership seems to be of the opinion that the only way to grow business in our area is to pay companies to come here? It’s depressing to me…and it’s not the kind of leadership Tulsa deserves. Expect better from the people you elect…and from the people tasked with growing Tulsa’s business community.

2. The airport part.

  • Our facilities at the airport are in disrepair. They’re outdated and in need of some major overhauls. I don’t question that at all and am an advocate for taking some very real steps to improve our facilities. With the unknown situation at American Airlines, I think it’s much more appropriate that we wait to see what happens. There is simply no good reason why we’re voting on this now except that the people who put it together wanted to capitalize on the community concern for job loss and the timing of the presidential election, with the emphasis being on the latter. They stated repeatedly in the two meetings I was in that the consultant said the best chance of passing something like this is in a large election. The reason being, a well-funded campaign over a short period of time can beat unfunded and disorganized opposition if you can pound the lightly informed masses with media in the weeks leading up to the vote. We rushed this whole thing so it could be on the November ballot. Nobody at the airport was pressing for this timeframe. That came straight from The Chamber. We’re talking about locking in a tax for airport improvements, primarily for a company who has a very uncertain future. I’m not worried about them coming out of bankruptcy. I’m sure they will. I’m worried that we have no idea what their future looks like, but we’re talking about investing a quarter of a billion dollars out there just in case. It should wait until we can have an educated conversation with some mutual commitments and joint goals. I don’t like it being done this way….it’s a big limb to go out on.
  • People keep saying that those are our buildings out there and that we’ve failed to maintain them. I want something to be really clear. Our leases with those companies are very light…What I mean is, they either pay almost nothing or very little. In exchange for that sweetheart deal, they are responsible for maintaining the facilities. Moving forward, I’d like to see us employ a strategy that facilitates better maintenance of those properties and holds tenants to some standards. I’m okay with the low rent rate in exchange for maintenance, as long as that’s the deal we all honor. Regardless, these are things that should be worked out after the bankruptcy and with plenty of time to structure the right proposal…not like this…in the dark and in a hurry and with 99% of Tulsans asked to just take The Chamber’s word for it.
  • Spirit and Navistar didn’t even ask for the upgrades. The Chamber asked them to make a list of their needs so that we weren’t just putting American Airlines improvements on a list. While there are some needs at those two plants, they were not considered to be pressing. With all of the things in our community that we could be doing to promote and encourage job growth, investing in facilities for employers who weren’t even asking for it to provide PR cover seems…
  • The bonding expense is expected to be roughly 90 million. Not a joke. The revenue to pay this thing doesn’t even start coming online until 2017. That means we’ll be advance funding it…and accumulating interest for the next four or five years so that we can start making repairs, buying equipment and bribing companies immediately. Would you make that deal? Would anyone you know make that deal? There’s a reason people don’t borrow money and let interest accrue for five years before revenue becomes available to pay the note…because it’s not smart.

Here’s the thing, Tulsa is going to have to stop doing things the same old way if we want to change our current trajectory. We’re heading for population stagnation, economic decline, and a sprawl-driven hollowing out of the core city… (Dire, right?!?) And all of that’s going to happen for the simple (and sad) reason that most of the Baby Boomers are going to get old and die in the next 25-35 years and they haven’t replaced themselves. What I mean is, their children have left and are leaving. Why? Because Tulsa does very little to attract or retain young people. When the Baby Boomers go, they take their money with them and right now we literally can’t afford to lose them. That generation drives the spending in our region and the loss of them will mean very bad things for us. Cities everywhere are starting to realize this and are working to develop more efficiently, build their urban core, create and develop a lifestyle that welcomes young people and develop and promote new industry with a different future in mind. Tulsa, however, seems set to double down on our past instead of appropriately preparing for the future. I’m not suggesting we neglect the important industries we have here, but we owe it to our kids to have a more futurist perspective and to “diversify our portfolio” a bit today while we have the chance. Mostly, I just think we can do better…and that we should do better.

Please feel free to follow up for clarification where I inevitably failed to be clear. I’ll post about the Proposition 2 “way of life” part tomorrow if I have time.