Get real

Arena shills say only tourists will get soaked by a new tax on rental cars. They're lying.

It's not the relocation that bothers him--or the money he's investing in the city. It's all the money that Perot and Hicks are wanting to take from the city for their relocation. "That's the thing that just drives me crazy," Grimes says. "Here we are, a business that's not as well off as these sports teams, and we're on land that is going to be on the tax rolls, unlike these sports teams. And we're operating without any special tax abatements, unlike these sports teams. And when we moved here, it never even occurred to us to ask for any tax breaks."

To hear Mayor Ron Kirk talk, there is no one like John Grimes--there are only tax vultures like Perot and Hicks. "The notion that somehow we're being asked to do more [for Perot and Hicks] is not true," Kirk, chairman of the pro-arena campaign, told the city council the day he beseeched them to put the arena on the January ballot. "There is not a developer in Dallas that doesn't come down here and say, 'Whatcha got?'"

Alas, the mayor has a short memory. In October 1995, he and the now-unresponsive Mallory Carraway loudly applauded Enterprise for moving its headquarters to Dallas without asking for a dime.

"They're not asking for anything but a change in zoning," Mallory Carraway said at an October 10 council meeting. "They're not asking for any type of tax rebate. They think Dallas is a great place to relocate their business to...So I would like to personally thank Enterprise for your support and confidence in the city of Dallas."

But now it's time to pay up, Mr. Grimes. Go hit your customers with an additional 5 percent sales tax so the city in which you have so much confidence can build a new sports arena--for two guys who own enough spare Jags to avoid ever having to see the inside of one of your cruddy little Chevy Cavaliers.

"I don't know if City Hall believes that this is a tourist tax, or if they're trying to pull one over on people," Grimes says.

"I'd like to think they got some bad information, but I never see the mayor or anyone saying that the bulk of people who rent cars in Dallas are local people--even though that's the case."

But don't believe Grimes. Believe his rental records.
After Grimes and I talked two weeks ago, I asked him to let me review a week's worth of Enterprise rental contracts. I picked the dates--November 3 through November 10. I also selected the rental location--Walnut Hill Lane and Central Expressway. He complied.

For several hours a day over several days, I studied 129 individual rental car contracts--the total number of people who rented, and returned, cars from that location during that eight-day period. (An accordion file filled with open contracts--for cars that hadn't been returned yet--was also made available to me, but I didn't include those in my review.)

Here are the results: Of the 129 people who rented cars, 87 lived in the city of Dallas. That means that by a 2-to-1 margin, taxpaying Dallas residents rented the cars--not so-called "tourists."

Of the remaining 42 renters, 18 were residents of other Dallas-Fort Worth-area cities. That left only 24 "tourists"--people from other Texas cities or other states. In other words, 81 percent of Enterprise's renters that week were local people, almost exactly what Grimes had said.

A majority of the renters that week had experienced some form of car trouble--car wrecks, breakdowns, tune-ups--that left them without a car. Each rental contract duly noted when a body shop or car dealership was footing the bill for the rental, but surprisingly, only 20 of the 87 Dallas renters had that arrangement. Everyone else paid their own way. (Not that those 20 people don't feel that bill at some point--ever-escalating insurance premiums and car-repair bills reflect such a cost, as anyone who pays either knows all too well.)

And just who were these Dallas residents who rented these cars? High rollers? Un-average, non-working people--to put a spin on Loza's lingo--who can easily afford a new 5 percent tax on top of the 10 percent currently charged? Hardly.

John Loza, meet Jayne Larson. She's a chatty, happy, 43-year-old single hairdresser who pulls in a meager $14,000 a year at Gent's Choice Barbers at Central Expressway and Meadow Road. On the evening of November 5, Larson had the misfortune of being at Fair Park at 8:30 p.m. in a 1989 Honda Civic that stalled in the Music Hall parking lot. (No, she wasn't there to see the Dallas Opera production of Aida--she was working for it, doing hair and makeup on the opera stars; it's an hourly, part-time position that, if she's lucky, earns her an extra $5,000 a year.)

Larson called the Automobile Association of America, which towed her car back to her one-bedroom North Dallas apartment. The next morning she got a repair shop to pick up her car; then she called Enterprise, located just across the expressway from her apartment. "I got the littlest car they had," she said, referring to the pint-size Geo Metro she rented for a day for $32.99--plus 78 cents for a car title and tax reimbursement fee that rental car companies charge, plus $3.38 for the 10 percent sales tax.

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