Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thinking Through the Holidays, Part 1

I really like to think.

Not a meditational, navel-gazing sort of thinking, but a get uncomfortable and challenge your assumptions sort of thinking (though I do reserve the right for the occasional navel gaze in moments of contentment or lethargy). The Economist is my read of choice for current events (particularly for politics and world affairs). For their holiday issue this year, they've thrown out some superlative mental floss. For your consideration, start with "Arguing to death", a contemplation of Socrates in today's America.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Because it's Festivus...

For the lower case deity nerds in all of us:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Full Rebuttal post link

In case anyone wants an all in one go copy, download it here.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: Epilogue

In the end, the KMT’s Top 10 list leads me to draw several conclusions about the parties involved on that side of the issue:

1. Many have competing interests.

2. Most of the people crafting the talking points seem unfamiliar with actually running large organizations or economic development projects.

3. A lot of the rhetoric involved requires people to maintain a deep distrust of anyone with money or influence.

4. Many of the arguments act as if there’ll never been another time to address other issues (like public safety).

5. A lot of non-OKC residents certainly love to pile on with their opinions.

6. Everyone ignores that even with the current 1% rate in place, Oklahoma City still has one of the lowest sales tax rates in the metro area.

Perhaps most importantly, the folks in the KMT movement don’t seem to be part of the cooperation, collaboration and trust that has made our city so successful in recent times. If you go to other cities, and talk to business leaders or economic developers or city managers or local policy makers, Oklahoma City is the envy of people around the country because of our ability to pull together for common causes. Growing a city takes a lot of time, effort, planning, and foresight. Most of all, I would argue that it takes trust. That’s historically been in short supply both here and other places. The people who’ve been at the front of this city’s efforts to reshape itself into a thriving community have demonstrated their trustworthiness. I, for one, want to continue to dance with who brought us. I hope everyone else dances as well.

Thanks for reading.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 1

KMT states:

1. A Tax Cut Will Stimulate Oklahoma City's Economy with $80-90 Million in Additional Sales.

This was already largely addressed under Point 9, but it’s worth revisiting. In this economy, what do you think will have a stronger impact: giving every Oklahoma City citizen a hypothetical ten dollars a month tax savings, or employing the people who will build $777 million in capital improvements? The latter scenario will also necessitate various supporting businesses for those working on the projects, and will stimulate the labor market by creating new jobs and therefore job mobility. This, in turn, will drive up sales tax receipts by providing the citizens of Oklahoma City with jobs CREATING ASSETS for our future and for our city.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 2

KMT states:

2. Sales Taxes Are Regressive.

I wouldn’t object to an exemption of groceries (specifically unprepared foods) from city sales tax (ideally, all sales tax). I also agree that sales taxes place a heavier burden on those with lower incomes. However, I definitely disagree with the statement that “the upper and upper middle class people pushing MAPS3 ridicule those who complain over “a few dollars a month.”


Let’s set the record straight: I’d definitely consider my family a middle-class family. We lead a relatively comfortable existence. Until recently, I was the sole income provider for our family of four by choice. I also recently decreased the number of paying jobs I hold from three down to two. I don’t ridicule someone to whom ten dollars a month may matter a great deal. I ridicule someone who tries to use class and income to divide me from my neighbors. This has nothing to do with lattes, spam, shoes or formula. I’m a father and husband who wants his family’s home to be the best it can, and offer opportunities for growth and recreation. It’s worth my sacrifice to make this city…OUR CITY…a better place. What the KMT’s should realize is that I won’t begrudge their use of the fruits of my sacrifice. I will begrudge, however, their attempt to interfere with my efforts to better our city for their own selfish agendas. JFK stated that “a rising tide lifts all the boats”. Our river finally has water. Now we’re trying to raise more boats.


Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 3

KMT states:

3. New Maps Projects Will Drive the City's Operating Budgets Deeper in the Hole.

The KMT site states that “All projects are for capital expenditures, with no provision for increased operating or maintenance costs.” I would challenge the opposition to MAPS 3 to approach the City’s Finance Department or Planning Department and merely ask for current estimates for how these new assets will be maintained. Do you really think that you’d account for maintenance in the tax numbers? These assets will be used and administered by some authority, public or private for the benefit of Oklahoma City.

Do we need more public safety? I feel definitely so regarding police, and perhaps with fire. However, efforts to further develop our city’s infrastructure, specifically from the core outward, enable more coverage in terms of density and focus without the burden of providing city coverage in suburban and rural areas. There are numerous ways to accomplish this expansion of services, but we should all be able to agree that public goods that can benefit many and produce return in excess of their cost will pay for themselves by enhancing the value of our city.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 4

KMT says:

4. Maps3 is a Slush Fund for the City Council.

The MAPS 3 initiative is NOT “a blank check signed by the taxpayers”, as the KMT site alleges. Merriam-Webster defines “slush fund” here as “an unregulated fund often used for illicit purposes”. The fund is regulated by ordinance, listed here. The plan for MAPS 3 must be a resolution, not an ordinance. That resolution is provided here. The list of the intended projects is listed here, and the ability to change those products has to exist because THINGS HAPPEN! The fact that the MAPS 3 program is “totally fluid and subject to change” should be a comfort to all Oklahoma City citizens, not a concern. (Note: if you want all the docs surrounding the City Council activity leading up to the adoption of the ordinance, the resolution for the plan, and the go-ahead for the election, you can find it all here).

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 5

KMT states:

5. Mick Cornett's Maps3 Numbers are as Fraudulent as Harry Reid's Obamacare Numbers.

I’ll admit that this is the biggest concern I have with MAPS 3. Yet, I’m okay with the risk for the following reasons:

A. This is the same team that made the MAPS for KIDS forecast, and was uncannily accurate, despite starting pre-9/11 in a recession and ending in a downturn.

B. If we come up short, we don’t build or we go back and vote an extension. The way MAPS works, lest everyone forgets, you have the money in hand before you start construction. If costs go up, you cut somewhere else. If you don’t collect the money, you either don’t build or change the plan or ask for additional collection time.

Besides, what’s with the inflammatory language about Mayor Mick? I don’t agree with some of his stances on things, but I don’t think he’s a liar. I’m even more willing to assert that he wouldn’t commit fraud for the sake of passing MAPS. Also, to insinuate that these projections are HIS numbers (like he ran the spreadsheets)…whatever.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 6

KMT states:

6. The Most Popular Projects are Being Used to Sell the Least Popular.

You know, this point may be somewhat legitimate. I’m sure sidewalks and outdoor facilities are much more popular than convention centers. However, guess what? You’ve got to pay to maintain those sidewalks and outdoor facilities. How might that happen? I’d suggest you might start looking at revenues from a convention center or from downtown commercial development or from increased activity and job creation with Oklahoma City’s city limits, but that’s just me.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 7

KMT states:

7. The Smaller Projects Will Be Cut First.

Whoever wrote this point must’ve needed filler. How do you pare down a $280 million convention center or a $22 million/mile streetcar system? You do it the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. Ask the Public Oversight Board who has struggled to keep MAPS and MAPS for Kids on budget, even when cost overruns arose and shortfalls emerged. These things happen. You deal with them. At least, you deal with them when you know what you are doing, and this city does. They’ve proven it time and again.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 8

KMT states:

8. A “Temporary” Tax Needs to Expire.

From the KMT site: “If it doesn't expire, it is not temporary. When special interests speak of “keeping the momentum alive,” they really mean “let's not let the tax expire; we might not get it back.” The OKC Elite intend to keep extending the Maps Tax forever!”

First, let’s say it goes on for twenty years, or twenty-five, or fifty. The moment it’s repealed or not reauthorized, it was a “temporary” tax. Who cares, as long as the money accomplished its intended purpose?

Second, if someone really believes that, then why would the OKC Chamber and virtually every other business related concern in Oklahoma City be behind MAPS 3? Do you honestly think they don’t buy things in Oklahoma City? The last line is a classic logical fallacy (when is a fancy term for bull mess). The “OKC Elite” receive an ad hominem attack, and they’re the perpetrators of some vast conspiracy. Anyone who knows a little bit about taxes should understand that this alleged OKC Elite could save a lot of money through various strategies, including relocating somewhere else. They don’t for a reason. They believe in this city, and in its people. If you don’t believe that, you don’t know them. At all.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 9

KMT states:

9. The Economy Continues to Slow. More Taxes Will Make It Worse!

There’s plenty of economic doom and gloom to be found in lots of places, even in Oklahoma City. However, the real axe to grind comes out not by trying to draw conclusions about how flat state economic growth might affect city sales tax receipts. Instead, KMT says, “Taking more money out of the pockets of citizens to fund projects for the OKC Elite is the wrong thing to do at the wrong time. Oklahoma's unemployment is up to 7.2%. Taxpayers need a break! Oklahoma City needs the boost in spending from a tax cut. We don't need more taxes!”

Where to start… Okay, in order:

A. You’re not paying more. You’re paying the same. Don’t attempt to confuse the issue.

B. (sarcasm) The OKC Elite? Really? I guess that’s the same OKC Elite who line the river for aquatics events and fireworks shows. I guess that’s the OKC Elite who would utilize refurbished State Fairgrounds facilities for their gun shows, antique shows, craft shows, horse shows, 4-H and FFA events, and the numerous shows that make our city the Horse Show Capital of the World. It’s the OKC Elite who’ll be the only ones using those Senior Citizen Aquatic Centers and bike trails. And, of course, Larry Nichols needs the combination of MAPS 3 and the TIF district money to make sure his new Devon condo has a really nice front lawn. (/sarcasm)

C. Oklahoma’s unemployment may be 7.2%, but OKC’s is currently estimated at 6.5% as of October. That’s tied with Virginia Beach for the second lowest in the country behind Washington D.C. (see source material here).

D. Everybody always wants to pay less. However, using KMT’s own numbers, we’re looking at an average of $10 a month per person. That’s roughly 33 cents a day. Oklahoma City can have its own Central Park, the beginnings of a rail system, major infrastructure renovations and improvements, and other amenities that will last through most people’s lifetimes, for 33 cents a day for seven years.

E. The impact of that extra $10 a month if it comes off the current tax rate? Probably minimal. Not because of the amount, but because in recessionary periods, tax cuts don’t stimulate the same level of consumption that they do in growth periods. People are concerned about their primary needs, so additional income tends to go into savings or debt reduction. This could be viewed as a Keynesian justification for spending, but it’s more like Friedman’s permanent income argument. For related articles, see here, here, and here.

Rebuttal To Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: No. 10

KMT says:

10. A New Convention Center Will Not Spur Economic Growth and Recovery. That's Magical Thinking!

The KMT folks state on their website (at least they did on December 3, 2009) that “the proposed $280 million is just little more than half of the projected total costs (website’s emphasis). Consultants estimate another $250 million will be needed to “finish” the convention center complex.” I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but they don’t cite who the “consultants” are, and where and when they made their cost assertions. That’s a red flag to me.

Next, KMT begins to hang their hat on the studies of Heywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at UT-San Antonio who has long criticized the conventional wisdom of using convention centers as growth engines. They cite his 2005 Brookings Institution study, along with an interview and a fairly even-handed review of his work and critics that makes me wonder if the site’s creators actually read it before posting it. Sanders may have some points to make, but he even admits that the data with which he conducted the Brookings study requires some strong assumptions, inductive reasoning, and fails to account for business cycle fluctuations (see the last article link). It also helps if you don’t mind anecdotal evidence. If you don’t believe me, READ THE BROOKINGS STUDY YOURSELVES. If I thought Oklahoma City was trying to pin its development hopes on a new convention center, I’d be worried as well. The point is that, while the new center is seen as an economic driver, it isn’t primary. It’s more infill and update than anything else. There are numerous structural and technical issues with the Cox Center that prevent it from hosting various conventions. To verify that information, simply contact the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. They have resources galore that I feel confident that they will share with you.

I'm not going to comment on the list's use of a comment post from an online discussion as a supporting authority, other than to question the authority of such a source and to wonder how they discovered the poster's name.

Rebuttal to Kill The MAPS Tax's Top 10 List: Intro

I can respect someone voting no to #MAPS3, except when their decision rests on ignorance, lies, and bad math. Vote yes.

That’s how this all began. That’s my quote from Twitter, after reaching my fill on Angus fertilizer about MAPS 3.

While attending a luncheon Wednesday where MAPS was discussed and questioned, Porter Davis, one of the leaders of the efforts to stop MAPS 3, stood up and proclaimed the need for debate about the proposal, while pointing everyone to a list of the “Top 10 Reasons to Kill the MAPS Tax.” I don’t claim for one minute to be someone whose opinion counts more than anyone else’s, nor do I claim to represent any group or concern. I do, however, have a vested interest in honest debate for personal philosophical reasons. Most people who know me would probably agree that a) I tend to voice my opinions in a forceful manner, but b) I willingly concede points that seem logically valid and factually substantiated. I save my attacks for where I feel the truth is being ignored, overlooked, or hidden. By my account, that’s what’s happening within the debate around MAPS 3. I hope this piece contributes to a closer examination of the facts and the arguments.

The loose collective of interest groups against the MAPS 3 initiative has coalesced around the efforts of two somewhat affiliated (or at least similar in purpose) campaigns: the Not This Maps campaign (found at nomaps3.com even though they list their URL as NotThisMaps.com), and the Kill the Maps Tax campaign (found at KillTheMapsTax.com). Some part of the collective attempt to say that it’s merely THIS Maps tax to which they object, while others stress that it is taxes in generally that they oppose. For the purpose of this piece, and because the various interest groups have lumped themselves together, I will do so as well here by referring to them as “KMT” (for Kill the Maps Tax).

Therefore, I present my rebuttal to the aforementioned “Top 10 Reasons to Kill the MAPS Tax”. In the reverse of the order they were originally presented...