Truth hurts

Think Dallas' Olympic bid won't cost taxpayers anything? Take a look at Plan B.

Last week city council member Laura Miller barely had resumed her chair at the briefing table when the mayor seized the floor, followed quickly by several of her fellow council members, all eager to apologize for the attack she had just made on Dallas 2012 Olympics promoter Tom Luce.

She had called him a liar. The rest of the council seemed stunned by her lack of diplomacy. The rule of the council is that public speakers can't call council members names, and Mayor Ron Kirk, whose mother was in the audience for the first time, scolded Miller that members of the council aren't supposed to personally abuse the speakers, either.

But even in apologizing for her, Luce's defenders on the city council seemed to say Miller's real sin had been telling the truth in public.

In their defense of Luce, the mayor and other council members essentially proved Miller's point: The game is to quietly get all of the ducks in a row in Austin, then when it's almost a fait accompli hit the taxpayers with a three-point squeeze: 1) we've almost got the Olympics, 2) a public tax-backed or tax-supported funding mechanism is in place, 3) the only thing left is for you to vote for it.

The underlying issue from the beginning has been whether Dallas will ever have to divert significant tax money and bond money, now or later, from basic city services to the Olympics. So far, the people who want the Olympics here--led by The Dallas Morning News, the locally headquartered airlines, and sports venue owners including Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks--have insisted a 2012 Olympics in Dallas will be a "private sector initiative," with the clear implication that taxpayers won't be taxed for it.

In particular, the Dallas Citizens Council, a private business and political group that doesn't reveal its membership, said it would pay the entire cost of $3 million to $5 million for the bid "application" (the lobbying to get it) entirely out of its members' pockets.

At last week's council briefing--with Olympics promoter Tom Luce standing at the podium a few feet from her--Miller dramatically marched around the council table handing out copies of a memo from the Dallas Olympics committee's own lawyer, revealing some very confusing things about this "private" venture.

Dallas Olympics backers, according to the memo from Ray Hutchison, have been lobbying in Austin for a state tax bill that would reimburse the Dallas Citizens Council from public coffers for all or part of the cost of the bid application.

According to the memo, the taxpayers of Dallas, acting through the city or county government or through some kind of "sports authority" created in the future, would be authorized by the state to build roads, stadiums--whatever is needed--and pay for it with bond money, general tax revenue--whatever it takes.

Before handing out the Hutchison memo, Miller had walked Luce through a careful course of questioning: Was the Dallas 2012 committee seeking any kind of public tax-supported funding mechanism for the games in its dealings with the Texas Legislature?

"It's not public financing for the bid," Luce said. "If the city is lucky enough to get the Olympics, in my judgment, there will of course be the need for current service--police, fire, and garbage, etc."

Would anyone ever want to use the power of eminent domain to condemn private property for the games?

"I don't have the foggiest notion," Luce said.
Miller asked him, "Do you foresee perhaps a municipality using the power to issue bonds or notes to cover any cost of utilities or infrastructure?"

"Miss Miller, I don't have any idea," Luce said.
Luce was especially adamant in insisting that the 2012 Committee, informally an extension of the Citizens Council, was neither seeking nor would it accept any repayment of the site-selection application costs.

When she had concluded a long list of questions, Miller then presented the mayor and each council member with a photocopy of a memo Hutchison had prepared for state Rep. Art Reyna of San Antonio. Reyna, whose city is pursuing the 2007 Pan American games, has taken the lead in formulating state support for Olympic bids. Hutchison's memo, under the title "minimum findings by the Legislature," outlined the following minimum terms for Reyna to consider if Dallas wins the games:

* The state would negotiate a contract with the 2012 Committee by which the state would agree to re-pay the committee "so much Site Selection Application costs."

* Several years before the games themselves, the state should begin setting aside a portion of the sales tax collected in the Dallas area to help pay for the games.

* "Participating cities and counties and regional sports authorities (would) have the power to contract, to sue and be sued and to condemn property and land in connection with the games."

* The city or sports authority would "have the power to issue bonds, notes and other securities deemed necessary to construct new games venues, to repair, expand and improve existing sports venues for use as games venues."

* If and when Dallas does sell bonds to pay for the games, it can pledge as collateral for those bonds "any revenues, taxes and other sources authorized by any other law, subject to such requirements for elections as may be required by other law."

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