BY WANDA JO STAPLETON
On Dec. 2, 2008, Devon Energy CEO Larry Nichols politely told the Oklahoma City Council that his company headquarters would be “more appropriate” in Houston.
Nevertheless, he intended to build a skyscraper office building in downtown Oklahoma City – if, and only if, taxpayers would provide his skyscraper with a 70-acre park [called “Core to Shore”] for a front yard.
The City Council has already approved Tax Increment Financing [TIF] to satisfy part of Devon’s request for these “public improvements.” This TIF funding is projected to raise $115 million for Devon’s purposes. The TIF money will come from collecting, then redirecting [to satisfy Devon’s requests] property taxes inside a large area surrounding Devon’s proposed skyscraper [Increment District No. 8].
Without this TIF intervention, those property taxes would have gone mainly to public schools; then to MetroTech, libraries, county government, and the City-County Health Department.
In addition to this $115 million, Oklahoma City residents will vote Dec. 8 to extend a one-percent sales tax now being paid to fancy up the Ford Center for the Thunder basketball team. This sales tax extension will last for 93 months!
“The average Oklahoma City resident can expect to pay about $10 per month,” according to Dr. Mark Snead, Oklahoma State University economist. In other words about $930 for each of us average types!
WHAT WE ASKED FOR
In 2007, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett asked city residents about their priorities for a MAPS 3 tax, provided we continued the MAPS projects. The peoples’ overwhelming choice was transit [light rail, streetcars, etc.] Second choice was infrastructure, including streets.
WHAT WE’RE GETTING
Nevertheless, much of MAPS 3 money will go for that 70-acre front yard for Devon and Oklahoma City’s third convention center – in addition to the Cox Convention Center and the Ford Center.
Under the heading of “transit” requested by city residents, the Oklahoma City Council has demonstrated unmitigated gall! After ignoring thousands or requests to save OKC’s Union Station rail yard from destruction, the cuncil is asking for our MAPS 3 sales tax money for “a downtown transit hub which will link streetcar, commuter rail and bus systems” – exactly the reason Union Station’s invaluable, irreplaceable rail yard was built in the first place.
The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce spent $850,000 on publicity during the last election to raise MAPS sales tax for fancying up the Ford Center. The Chamber will probably spend even more this time because at stake is $930 from each of us “average” Oklahoma City residents.
The OKC Council and the Chamber could not stick us with the bill for corporate enrichment if the people were informed. After all, the people, not the Chamber, hold the power with “one vote, one person.”
Whether or not they choose to use it on the MAPS 3 vote on Dec. 8 remains to be seen.
– The author, a former Democratic state representative, lives in south Oklahoma City and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. This article first appeared in the Nov. 10 editions of The Observer.