As a citizen usually on the other end of the political spectrum than the Tulsa World, I have enjoyed the fact that for years, I believed the Tulsa World tended to give a fair shake to those running for office in an attempt to cover both sides of political discourse. In this nonpartisan District 9 race, the board and Tulsa World have utterly failed in their stewardship of the Constitution-protected First Amendment right of the press to inform the general public.
They emailed me in September, and extended to me an opportunity to meet face to face with (the editorial board) in October. I replied as instructed and never heard back. Then, a World reporter attends one meeting I spoke at and did not stay to question me or ask me anything further on my platform. Then the World publishes a conclusion characterizing one idea I have, along with other ideas not mentioned, as “simplistic,” “unrealistic” and “wrong.”
I will clarify on record on how we can reduce sales tax in Tulsa without reducing city government quantifiable goods and services delivered to Tulsa, including developing and supporting police, fire, infrastructure and roads. By the way, Tulsans are paying too much tax right now.
Here are the facts not talked about publicly prior to this race that I have highlighted to District 9 residents as I have campaigned. For full disclosure, in running for this seat, this is the first time I have looked at city financials. But they are not much different from business financials, and I am open to correction on my numbers, but I suspect I am not far off.
- The City of Tulsa has roughly $1.731 billion in current debt – stretching back to 1985 and obligated all the way to 2040 – which must be paid off with interest.
- That $1.7 billion dollars in debt cost the city $138.6 million dollars to service in 2016. That is 8 percent, even though some of the bonds have listed rates of 7.11 percent or less. Using the Rule of 72, we know that $1.7 billion dollars in debt will cost Tulsa taxpayers double that amount every 9 years. So $1.7 billion dollars spent today buying $1.7 billion dollars of infrastructure or salaries will cost us another additional $1.7 billion every 9 years.
- While the city’s budget may say $750 million dollars total a year, the actual “free cash flow” or liquidity of the city is the sales tax brought in – $367 million dollars projected this year. This sales tax amount does not take into account or even begin to explore the $100 million collected, then spent on water; $90 million collected, then spent on sewer; $25 million collected, then spent on trash; and $26 million collected, then spent on stormwater – all of which is exactly what I will explore and wrap my mind around as a city councilor about how the city spends $100 million dollars on delivering a product that costs them nothing through an infrastructure already put in place. Hence the word “accountability” in my slogan. Also, how the city spends $26 million dollars on stormwater projects a year when the vast majority of the drainage pipes are in place.
In a nutshell, the strategy of running the city on debt is inefficient and costing taxpayers dearly, because they have to pay several times over for projects. What if we were spending $138.6 million dollars a year on maintaining and building new infrastructure rather than financing yesterday’s aging infrastructure at the cost of today and tomorrow? The only reason for debt is based on the time value of money in relation to inflation.
Inflation averaged 2.54 percent over the past decade when these bonds were issued, and the 8 percent actual interest rate of our debt far outstrips the pace of inflation – negating any sensibility in the use of debt to run the city. I suggest that the issuance of bonds in the first place contributes to the monster called inflation – where the average person’s wages and savings end up diminishing in value each year.
Since a problem in our strategy has been identified, how do we fix it? And at least I am contributing an idea. Here is my simple, but not “simplistic,” realistic, not “unrealistic”, good, not “wrong” idea I am asking residents of District 9 to get behind me as their next councilor – let’s live within our means as a city. Let’s no longer lean on debt, starting right now. It’s a twofold approach. The city should do what it’s supposed to do essentially and do it well. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out ways to spend money; it takes wisdom and discretion how to make the most with what you have. I suggest this wisdom has been lacking down at Tammany, I mean Tulsa City Hall.
First, we get more efficient running the city by consolidating road crews who complete one project by working 24/7 before beginning another one. We must explore ways to merge redundant administrative positions overlapping the Water, Sewer, Trash departments and eliminate the city manager position and his staff so the mayor can earn his $120,000 a year running the administrative side of city government. We should cancel the $2 million funneled to the chamber (whose job should already be to promote the city’s interest without getting paid for it) and make sure the $65 million designated in upcoming VisionTax funds is spent on this new dam or return it immediately to the taxpayers. We should probably return the $63 million in upcoming funds back to taxpayers for maintaining the Zink Dam because the dam was already recently maintained, but the city got shafted by the general contractor who did the job and canned the mechanical engineer who pointed out the miscalculations being done. The city has recovery options supported by professional witnesses at their disposal in that regard. Find out why city assets are being used for personal reasons and reduce the $30 million a year request for new vehicles and other assets. That is the brief version.
Second, we maintain current tax rates with this strategy in mind – all monies not essential to essential city operations are put towards the principal of the debt. Municipal bonds can be retired early. The bonds which have the highest dollar amount of interest paid out at each scheduled payment should be retired first – not the ones that necessarily have the highest interest rate on their face. This is the fastest way to retire debt.
The bonus is that at some point in the future we can run the city off of “debt in reverse mode,” i.e. investments and an endowment fund. After all the debt is retired, the city can build an endowment fund and run operations off of the profits. When sustainability is reached, sales tax is no longer needed. As a result, businesses in Tulsa can begin to compete with the $250 million dollars in business leaving the city each year through Internet sales. A zero percent sales tax would cause business in the city to skyrocket and attract more startups than we could handle. But hey, that’s unrealistic right? Because it’s never been done before? It’s not like Harvard, Yale and many other institutions do the same thing. Isn’t the new dam itself going to have a permanent endowment fund? If there is any legal restriction to this way of doing city business, let’s talk to the peeps down the Turnpike about changing their mind, or at least work our way back to zero debt for starters.
I have ideas. Nothing in your endorsement of my opponent highlighted any substantive ideas for the city. He has not had substance when I have heard him talk either. His flyer is full of educated fluff talk. Let the mayor appoint him to a law enforcement committee or as chief of police since they get along “like a house on fire” – according to his words. That way the job of the D9 councilor and City Council to be a “check” and hold the Mayor-elect responsible is not compromised.
I’ll hold my tongue for now on the city leader endorsements my opponent has received you mentioned.