$884,634,000.00 Sales Tax Hike

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and all nine city councilors want to increase sales tax by $884,634,000.00 and, along with chamber supporters, they will try to convince Tulsa voters to approve the tax increase April 5.

Even though the tax hike has more than 40 elements, voters will only be able to vote yes or no on three combinations: public safety, transportation and “economic development.”

Opposition to the sales tax increase is already forming. Citizens for a Better Vision, a local grassroots organization that includes Ronda Vuillemont-Smith and George McFarland, has set up a Facebook page that has already 800 people signed up for support.

“We will be opposing this,” Vuillemont-Smith said.

Also, there is a statewide initiative petition effort to put a proposal on the state ballot in November to raise the state portion of the sales tax by one penny (from 4.5 cents to 5.5 cents) to spend more on public education. The state already spends 52 percent of its $7 billion-plus discretionary budget on public education.

Should the state sales tax increase and city sales tax increase votes pass, Tulsans would be close to paying a 10-percent sales tax (9.5 percent) and Tulsa would have one of the highest sales tax rates in America.

If both tax increase votes fail, Tulsa will have a total sales tax of 7.917 percent – which is a high average but out of the Top 10 (see adjoining chart).

In the April 5 Tulsa vote, the public safety tax will be permanent, if approved. The transportation sales tax increase will also be permanent. The “economic development” section will be a “temporary tax ” for 15 years.

City and chamber officials argue that this is not a “new tax” but just an extension for the .6-cent county sales tax that was part of Vision 2025. The Vision 2025 tax was sold to the county voters in 2003 as a “temporary tax” and it is due to expire next year.

But when taxes expire, subsequent tax hikes are new taxes, especially if they require a vote of the people. This one does require a vote and it switches a new tax from the county to the city.

Councilors had a wish list of more than $1,000,000,000.00 in pet projects but reduced that list so that it would be under a billion dollars to help insure passage April 5. In late January, they cut more than $65,750,000.00 from their final wish list.

“We’ve worked relentlessly for more than two years to get this right,” Council Chair Jeannie Cue said. “No single person got everything they wanted, but together, we developed a program that all ten of us, our constituents and the city can be proud of.”

The public safety sales tax would be at a rate of 0.16 percent from Jan. 1, 2017 to July 1, 2021, when a previous sales tax increase is scheduled to expire, and then at a rate of 0.26 percent permanently thereafter. Over the first 15 years, the tax is projected to generate $202 million for the police department and $70 million for the fire department.

However, city financial “experts” have been consistently wrong in predictions about sales tax revenue. Raising sales taxes pushes consumers to Internet purchases and even causes retail customers to shop in adjacent cities or counties to avoid high sales tax.

The sales tax for transportation would be at a permanent rate of 0.085 percent starting on Jan. 1, 2017. Over the first 15 years, the tax is projected to generate $45 million for street maintenance and traffic and $57 million for transit operations and capital.

The 15-year sales tax for economic development will begin on Jan. 1, 2017, at a rate of 0.305 percent; on July 1, 2021 – as other city sales taxes expire – the rate will increase to 0.805 percent and will drop to 0.305 percent on July 1, 2025.

The mayor, city councilors and chamber officials believe that spending taxpayer money on the  Arkansas River plus Gilcrease Museum expansion, Cox Business Center and Arena District Master Plan, Tulsa Zoo expansion, BMX Headquarters and public schools will develop the economy and offset the impact of higher taxation.

Municipalities are not responsible for funding public schools. Officials at Tulsa Public Schools have already expressed dismay that the city money to be spent on TPS is not enough.

If approved, this sales tax program will be overseen by the Citizen Sales Tax Overview Committee.

Proposed Sales Tax Increases






Gilcrease Museum


Low water dam


Zink Lake




Civic Center




Tulsa Fairgrounds


Tulsa Airports


Tulsa Zoo


Langston University


BMX bike headquarters


South Mingo "corridor"


Tulsa Public Schools


Capitol equipment


City "beautification"


Peoria-Mohawk Business Park


Tulsa, Union, Jenks schools


East health clinic


Air National Guard


Tulsa Children's Museum


Wilderness area


North Peoria to Mohawk


Tulsa Community College


Levee rehab


Park trails




McCullough Park


Mohawk Sports Complex


Bike trails


Route 66 Train Depot


Tulsa Arts Commission


Performing Arts Center rehab


23rd and Jackson project