Sales tax is the lifeblood of city finances. In Tulsa, the infrastructure needs continue to grow and the revenue stream from sales tax appears more and more shaky.
Which makes it all the more curious as city elected officials continue to support activities that chew away at the tax base.
Chamber officials, who have a large percentage of their funding from the hotel tax, are excited about a new shopping center at the huge casino in Catoosa. This center will pay no property taxes and all of the city portion of its sales tax will go to Catoosa, not Tulsa.
So why is the Tulsa chamber promoting a development that sends shoppers – and their sales tax – to Catoosa?
One of the answers is that the chamber and Tulsa officials prefer a regional approach rather than looking out directly for the best interests of the city. That is why they want hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax increases for river development that will not help Broken Arrow, Bixby, Owasso, Skiatook, Sand Springs or even Jenks.
A side issue that Tulsa elected officials – along with most of Tulsa’s “news media” – support tribal casinos and will not criticize them on any level. And the chamber leadership loves casino gambling and that helps fill up the area hotels while they get the city motel tax.
So, instead of building up a retail tax base, the city and the chamber will push for higher sales tax rates while they borrow hundreds of millions to fund their ill-advised river improvement plans.
Years ago, chambers of commerce promoted their own cities, even to the point of sacrifice, and city councilors fought for genuine economic development and low tax rates.
That’s not true in Tulsa anymore.