Vision2 is the most poorly conceived and strategically deficient tax proposal in memory, a desperately short-sighted and reactionary response to a problem whose solution has yet to be determined.
Proposition 1 includes $386 million in airport industrial complex improvements, a closing fund and $80 million in bond costs, all with no strings attached. There is absolutely no compelling evidence of any urgency to approve this kind of spending now, without any predictable or guaranteed return on investment.
American Airlines has repeatedly made it clear that infrastructure improvements will not guarantee anything in regards to its presence here. AA has an enormous investment and thousands of skilled workers in Tulsa. It is highly unlikely that it will just pull up shop and clear out in the next 24 to 36 months. If we lose additional maintenance jobs, it will be due to the financial pressure to outsource maintenance work overseas, not some other American city outbidding us.
Adding to the question marks in Proposition 1 are the sweetheart lease terms where present airport tenants pay only $1 per year for hundreds of thousands of square feet of space. However, the leases do place responsibility for maintenance and repairs on the lessees, so why should we consider investing hundreds of millions of dollars more in those aging facilities?
We need a bolder strategy that provides a more imaginary, a more visionary and a more sustainable aviation and aerospace future. Any new plan for the development of our aviation and aerospace industries should focus more on the emerging new technologies and related educational and research opportunities like commercial space exploration and less on the nuts and bolts ethos of the past.
Responsible economic development should be a policy intervention that aims to improve the economic and social well-being of our community and its citizens. It ought to be more about social justice and social equity than corporate giveaways and incentives.We need to maintain our moral compass and say no to the idea of a closing fund. Let’s compete with an attractive quality of life offer, not pursue hopeless bidding wars for companies that will be out the door the first time another community comes along with a better offer, which they will.
While Vision2 proponents have failed to make any convincing argument for the urgency of approving the economic development proposal, they have not even tried to defend the ill-timed quality-of-life components in Proposition 2.
The next tax package we should be considering is the extension of the third penny and “Fix Our Streets,” which is set to expire in June 2014, not the Vision 2025 extension, which expires in 2017. The city of Tulsa is currently sitting on an unfunded capital improvement wish list in the range of $7 billion.
The public should be provided with a broad overview of all potential capital projects, funded, unfunded and those awaiting approval to be put on the list. That way residents can fully understand the universe of needs before recommending individual projects that affect budget decisions and their associated tax consequences.
Make no mistake, many of the quality-oflife projects that made the City Council’s and the mayor’s final cut in Proposition 2 are worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, many other deserving projects such as capital funding for an improved transit system were left out due to the hurried nature of the process.
With four years remaining we have time to evaluate and prioritize which projects deliver the best return on investment and deserve to make the final cut. Let’s defeat this knee-jerk proposal and begin a more thoughtful process on how we might build on the successes of Vision 2025. Most importantly, let’s get more public input from the outset, not as an afterthought.
Bill Leighty is a member and former chairman of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and currently serves as vice-chairman of the Transportation Advisory Board.
Published in the Tulsa World Readers Forum – October 31, 2012