Next Tuesday, a few thousand voters will flock to the polls to determine if Oklahoma City is going to spend $1-billion on new homes for potholes.
Packaged by the Chamber of Commerce, city leaders and other members of the local ruling class into a shiny, clean and marketable “Better Streets, Safer City” plan, the proposal is actually a complex funding initiative that’s composed of good and bad ideas, including 13 individual bond packages, one sales tax increase and a sneaky extension of the once-storied MAPS tax.
Here’s a general breakdown of all the items on the ballot:
1. A 10-year, $967 million bond package to invest in streets, police and fire facilities, parks and other basic needs. The bond package would succeed the almost-complete 2007 bond program.
2. A permanent ¼ cent sales tax to fund $26 million annually in police services, fire protection and other critical services.
3. A temporary, 27-month continuation of the expiring MAPS 3 penny sales tax to fund $240 million for street resurfacing, streetscapes, trails, sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure.
The $967-million bond package seems like a sane idea. Yeah, roads are a drain on the environment and cost a lot of money to maintain, but we still need them, and although it never really worked for me in SimCity, taking out a bond seems like a decent way to pay for them. It’s at least better than an additional tax, right? My only concern is “other basic needs.” What’s that? Is the city going to pay for food, alcohol and sex? If so, expect larger crowds at the new MAPS 3 Senior Centers.
I also like the permanent 1/4% sales tax for police, fire and other critical services. That money will allegedly be used to hire new policemen, firemen, and other occupations that have been prominently featured in LEGO city sets. I honestly don’t know if these groups really need the extra money or help, but hopefully my support will help get me out of ticket someday.
Although I support the first two items, the extension of the one penny MAPS sales tax to build more roads seems like a terrible idea. And no, I’m not saying that because I’m one of those anti-MAPS people.
In fact, I’ve supported (and defended) every MAPS plan since I was a 14-year-old kid walking the steps of the Myriad selling Oklahoma City Blazer programs. What made MAPS work is that we built stuff that generations of Oklahomans can use and enjoy – things like new schools, libraries, arenas, canals, parks, community centers, and, uh, white water rafting facilities. The projects had staying power. They were an investment in our city and people. They spurred billions of dollars in private development. They succeeded in improving this town’s quality of life.
“MAPS 4 Roads” – which is what we should all be calling it – doesn’t accomplish any of that. Sure, it may make driving to around town a bit easier or more scenic, and I’m sure a new intersection at 194th and May will bring along a new On Cue, Sonic, Walgreens and other private development deals, but we should be paying for these road improvements out of a general fund or through bonds. We don’t need to tax ourselves an additional penny for it. That would be like taking out a home equity loan to pay your electric bill. It’s something that should already fall under your budget.
MAPS 4 Roads also lacks the sexiness and grand appeal of other MAPS projects. Roads are boring. They’re nothing to get excited about. For example, which pitch sounds better when city leaders are trying to get a business to move here:
“And to top things off, Oklahoma City voters just approved a 27-month, $250-million tax to build new roads. Yes, that’s right. Just like every other city in America, we’re building new roads.”
“And to top things off, Oklahoma City voters just approved a 60-month, $600-million penny sales tax to develop a state-of-the art public transit system that will connect suburban areas to our thriving urban core, making it easier for all residents of all classes to move around town.”
I’m not saying we need a big fancy public transit system. I also know the odds of any company wanting to move here is pretty low at the current moment, but MAPS, MAPS for Kids, and MAPS 3 were all idealistic, visionary plans that aimed to improve the quality of life of Oklahoma City residents and make our city a more marketable place for business and tourism. MAPS 4 Roads doesn’t accomplish any of that. It just builds new roads that will need maintenance in few years.
As result, I’d suggest you to not follow the advice of our ruling class on next Tuesday. You should probably vote “Yes” for the bonds and the 1/4 cent tax increase, but the MAPS 4 Roads seems like a bad deal. Please vote “No” on that item. MAPS, and our city, can do better.