Tulsa senator thinks river tax is all wet

By David Arnett    
Thursday, 06 September 2007
[Edit Note: Tulsa Today Publisher David Arnett is also the public information manager for PMg, the private contractor hired to implement several public infrastructure projects under contract for Tulsa County, a fact well known prior to the following interview.]

Though State Senator Randy Brogdon (R-Dist 34) has publicly announced his opposition to the Tulsa County proposition to fund river restoration and development, set for an Oct. 9 vote, he has admitted that he has not read the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan detailing such development.  Additionally, he still opposes Vision 2025 – a Tulsa County infrastructure package passed in 2003 – claiming it was “wrong headed.”  

In a recent interview with Tulsa Today, Brogdon cited what he called “common-sense reasons and philosophical reasons” for his statements.

“I guess the best common-sense reason I can talk about would be the fact that another county tax to build municipal projects is, in my opinion, taking a step backwards,” Brogdon said.  “The same thing happened to Vision 2025, and I’ll give you the perfect example, right here in Owasso: the people that were schlepping the 2025 tax at the time came to Owasso and said, ‘Look, if you will support this county tax, we’ll give you a million-and-a-half dollars so you can build a new YMCA.’  Well, that million-and-a-half dollars that we got to build the YMCA is going to cost the citizens of Owasso $17 million over the next 13 years.  That’s $17 million that we could have used for police and fire, for roads, or for anything else that we wanted to build, right here in our own city.  So I think that is a horrible trade, and it makes no sense whatsoever to spend that kind of money for a negative return.  There is no one in their right mind that would invest $17 million for a million-and-a-half return over 13 years.  It doesn’t make sense.”

In reality, Vision 2025 funded more than one project for Owasso – and the Community Center project(s) Brogdon references are actually four projects, including new heating and air conditioning in the existing Community Center, construction of a larger, community-built park with a children’s playground, construction of a Veteran’s Memorial, and participation in the construction of a new recreational facility by the YMCA.  Those four projects were allocated a total of $1 million by Vision 2025.

In addition, $1,143,463.90 was provided by Vision 2025 for downtown/neighborhood projects in Owasso.  At the request of Owasso elected officials, Vision 2025 also funded at $4.5 million a water utility infrastructure, which was called a “critical need” at the time in order to support new privately funded medical facilities in the area.

When reminded of these expenditures, Brogdon said, “What I’m asserting is that Vision 2025 was the wrong tax.  It was a county tax to provide municipal projects.  I think it’s wrong-headed to have the county involved in the City of Owasso trying to build a YMCA or water tower or anything else.  That is our responsibility.  I would not have supported a state tax to build a YMCA.  Why would I support a county tax?  I would not support a federal tax to build a YMCA.”

Brogdon added that he did not support the American Airlines proposition of Vision 2025, even though it was in his district.  “I don’t give up my entire thought process because something’s in my district,” he said.  “I do not believe that government’s role is to perform economic development and to bless a business with taxpayer dollars.”

The American Airlines proposition included in Vision 2025 was a “stand-alone” question, and more than 60 percent of Tulsa County voters disagreed with Brogdon at the ballot box.  The American Maintenance and Engineering Center, which has been located in Tulsa for longer than 60 years, employs 6,945 people and impacts an additional 12,084 jobs in the surrounding communities, including Owasso.  American purchases $72 million annually from local vendors and suppliers, and has a total economic impact of about $2 billion.  It is the largest private aircraft-maintenance facility in the world. [Source: American Airlines, 2006]  This Vision 2025 proposition transformed the Tulsa Base from a cost center to a profit center for the company and enhanced a work force important to the entire metropolitan area.

According to Steve Glime, American Airlines Manager of Products Support, “American now has new technologies and capabilities that allow us to in-source many of our own components and attract outside customer work as well.”

Brogdon’s opposition of the river tax is based on his view of what is – and is not – proper for government to bring to fruition.

“This is an almost $300 million tax,” he said.  “It is a county tax to provide and bill for economic development, which I believe is not government’s role, and to provide parks, which is not a priority — which is not a higher priority than roads, bridges.  It’s a county tax, without one mile of resurfacing road in my district.  There is no benefit whatsoever to the citizens in my district that I represent – Owasso, Collinsville, Sperry –  asking us to take more money out of our pocket to send to Tulsa so they can have another River Park development.”

Tulsa Today asked the senator if he had ever read the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan, and he said that he had not.

Posted online, the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan has been in development for four years, through over 60 public meetings and approval by the Board of County Commissioners and City Councils and planning agencies throughout Tulsa County.  The Our River Yes group has a web site and myspace page promoting passage of the proposition.

It would not be possible for a single municipality to restore the 42 miles of Arkansas River in Tulsa County.  In addition, the federal government, represented by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in this project, reports that the chances of receiving federal funds are enhanced with Tulsa County serving as the higher body of government coordinating multiple municipal efforts.  (In fact, $50 million is included in the current U.S. Water Resources Development Act under consideration by Congress.)

The figures apparently failed to impress the State Senator, and he cautioned, “I would just encourage the people, especially on this October 9th, to pay close attention to what those who are promoting another tax increase are telling you.  They want you to play the combine one more time.  They want you to roll the dice.  They’re telling us that if we build it, they will come, and I believe we’ve proven, over and over again, that once politicians and once government gets involved in the private sector, things don’t get better; they get worse.”

Claiming to be a “Reagan conservative,” Brogdon continued, “Reagan said that government is not the solution; government is the problem – and I believe that.  Anytime you have politicians trying to funnel money from one place to the other, trying to take it out of your pocket and put it in mine – or in one of their friends’ – that is not the way to do business.  And redistributing someone’s money for political gain – redistributing county money given to build a city project – is a wrong-headed way to do business.  I believe that local government should take care of its own local projects.

“The fact is, we would be taking money out of our community right here in Owasso, and it will be leaving our community without a direct benefit,” said Brogdon.  “I want that money to stay in our community, because we’re going to have a school bond issue coming up.  That’s money that we could use for our community.”

In Tulsa Today’s universe, every elected official is placed in office by their local constituents to represent local interests within their area of authority up to the President of the United States of America.  In the interview, Brogdon did not seem to speak of more than the City of Owasso’s direct interest – though he actually represents parts of the City of Tulsa, as well as Sperry, Catoosa, Valley Park, Limestone, Collinsville, and a bit of Turley.

Major Vision 2025 projects in Senate District 34 include, in part, American Airlines and the Osage Trail and Downtown/Neighborhood funds for every town.  Other voter-approved Tulsa County infrastructure projects within Brogdon’s District include $2 million to rebuild the “Collinsville Curve” and the widening of 86th Street North and 76th Street north from Sheridan Avenue to the Owasso city limits – totaling $8.5 million.  (To see 4-to-Fix II projects, click here.)

Is this a case of “If it’s NOT in MY yard – heck, NO! Butter MY bread first.”?

Last Updated ( Thursday, 06 September 2007 )