POSTED ON AUGUST 8, 2012:
As Time Allows
A lack of clarity in Vision 2025 renewal talk has some worried a rush job won't benefit voters
With increased buzz about a possible renewal of sales tax initiative Vision 2025, Stephen Lassiter doesn't want elected officials to forget about bicycle projects.
"Vision 2025 did fund some bike projects downtown, portions of the Midland Valley Trail and the Osage Trail to Skiatook," said Lassiter, chair of the a bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee put together by the city and the Indian Nations Council of Governments. "But I think it would make sense if we were going to renew Vision 2025, we would consider including bike projects and pedestrian projects."
The 2003 countywide, voter-approved initiative increased the sales tax by one penny for 13 years to fund infrastructure projects, though it was slimmed to a six-tenths of a cent hike when plans fell through to woo aerospace manufacturer Boeing Company.
Recent talk about a voter-approved initiative no doubt stems from the uncertainty regarding American Airlines, which has said publicly it plans to lay off more than 2,000 employees from Tulsa even while it attempts to resolve bankruptcy proceedings and negotiate with unionized workers.
Yet reports and comments from elected officials suggest that more than industrial infrastructure at the airport might be on a ballot measure.
Tulsa City Councilor David Patrick wrote in an email that this year makes for a good time to present voters with options.
"Presidential Election years is when there is the most voter turnout," Patrick wrote. "We would like to have as many residents of Tulsa County involved with the extension of Vision 2025 as possible. Also, there is such great momentum in the County from the first Vision 2025, that we would like to continue this positive movement forward."
Lassiter said he's been in touch with city officials, one of whom "said I shouldn't worry" about a proposed timeline published in The Tulsa World, which reported that proponents want a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. To make the ballot, details would need to be handed over to the election board by Aug. 22.
Lassiter said he still feels in the dark, despite reading assurances from City Councilor Blake Ewing published in The World that for any such measure, projects will be vetted publicly.
"Who's making the list of projects? Is the public getting any input on which projects are going to be put up for public discussion?" asked Lassiter. For example, he'd like to connect two segments of the Mingo Trail, which ends at East 41st Street before picking up again at East 81st Street.
Lassiter said a rush job on a ballot measure might not serve proponents well.
"I think Vision 2025 probably was successful in passing because there was a lot of time for public input into what kinds of projects were going to be on the ballot," Lassiter said. "It didn't feel rushed. I think if this is thrown together and it feels rushed, I don't think it has much chance of being successful anyway."
In 2003, civic leaders informed voters about five months ahead of any impending vote, announcing in April plans for a September or October election.
Asked to talk timing, Ewing in an email referred comment to county commissioners.
County Commissioner Fred Perry referred comment to the Tulsa Metro Chamber, but also wrote in an email "it is clear that their reasoning has to do with saving jobs and adding jobs at the airport industrial area."
Perry added: "I can't speak for the other commissioners but at this time I am considering the chamber's proposal and doing due diligence in that regard."
The Tulsa Metro Chamber declined to comment.
The Vision 2025 initiative approved funding for notable projects like the BOK Center, improvements to Expo Square and construction of buildings for several local colleges.
Bill Christiansen, a former city councilor who announced in June plans to run for mayor, was on the Vision 2025 leadership team.
"It's hard to weigh in on the package until the package is announced," he said. "I would say to you saving jobs I think is important for Tulsa and Tulsa County, but I think it has to be done responsibly."
Christiansen said having plenty of lead time for such a proposal is important "so that when the election day rolls around, voters can go and make an educated decision on how they're going to vote."
He added: "To rush it at the last minute is not one of the things I'd like to see done."
Along with the possibly short timeline, officials will find a different political climate than in 2003.
"I think that the day of the voters voting themselves a tax increase is more remote today than it was back when we voted for Vision 2025," Christiansen said, adding that he wouldn't support a tax increase but might support a tax renewal.
Voters have reasons to scrutinize any such proposal related to their pocketbook, he said.
"Let's face it. People's salaries have not gone up as much as the cost of their living has gone up," he said.
Maybe, maybe not. In 2003, Tulsa County residents took home an average weekly wage of $651. Last year, that number had risen to $867, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- a 33 percent increase. The most recent numbers show that Tulsa County led the nation in weekly wage increases in the fourth-quarter of last year compared to the same time period in 2010.
Wages have gone up faster than rent, but not nearly as quickly as the cost of gasoline. In August 2003, gas prices nationwide were $1.52, compared to $3.45 last month -- an increase of 127 percent. In 2003, the government-calculated rent was $593 for a two-bedroom apartment, compared to the $732 cost for the last fiscal year -- a 23 percent increase.
Compared to 2003, "I do think it is a different environment now," he said.
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