The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 November 2005

Down by the riverside

Tulsa attorney David McKinney is spearheading a campaign he calls Do The River First, a call for Tulsa County voters to reject three of the four propositions on the "4 to Fix the County" ballot and spend the money instead on Arkansas River development, which, he says, "is the best chance we have to improve our economy."

Certainly it's worked for Jenks, to the south of Tulsa, which is busily developing its stretch of the Arkansas while Tulsa commissions studies and such. And, McKinney points out:

Our overall sales tax burden is almost 10%. It is unlikely that the voters will approve any higher sales tax. This means that if we do not use the expiring 1/6% sales tax for the Arkansas River, we will not have any substantial amount of sales tax money available to DO THE RIVER for five more years.

Worse, he says, other cities in the region are way ahead of Tulsa in riverside development:

Most Kansas cities and towns — including those that share the Arkansas River with us — have ambitious river development plans. These include Topeka [link requires Adobe Reader] and Wichita.

Our neighboring cities [are] turning their rivers into economic development engines. These include Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Des Moines, Memphis and Kansas City. And look what Oklahoma City has done and they had to CREATE their river through Bricktown!

(Links in the first paragraph added by me.)

I have one small quibble with this:

Instead of spreading a thin, ineffective, coat of tax money around the county, we should focus our available sales tax dollars on a project that really will improve our community. Oklahoma City used this approach when it concentrated its sales tax proceeds on the successful Bricktown project.

The two situations aren't strictly comparable, since Oklahoma City's MAPS projects tended to be much larger than anything on the "4 to Fix the County" agenda, and only 2.5 of the nine MAPS projects (the ballpark, the canal, and half the trolley routes) were specific to Bricktown. The only MAPS project that is really comparable to anything in "4 to Fix" is the general upgrading of State Fair Park. There's Vision 2025, of course, but any plans Vision 2025 might have for the river will, "due to a multiplicity of complicated issues", take a long time.

Perhaps more to the point, both "4 to Fix" and Vision 2025 are Tulsa County projects: they are funded by a county sales tax, and inevitably, given the structure of county government in Oklahoma, this leads to turf issues. (McKinney alludes to this: "The extension of ["4 to Fix"] will pay for road projects in the suburbs, balanced almost to the penny so each commissioner has the same money to spread around his/her district.") MAPS, by contrast, was undertaken entirely by Oklahoma City; Oklahoma County has no sales tax of its own.

Then again, would riverfront development in Tulsa move along more swiftly if the City of Tulsa were more directly involved? Somehow I doubt it.

Posted at 11:25 AM to Soonerland