Taxpayers, Arise!

A little-known chapter of the city charter says we don't have to take it anymore

But both sides of the coalition will blah-blah-blah and blab-blab-blab about how we have no choice. In that, though, they will have two problems. The mayor. And Councilman Mitchell Rasansky.

I spoke to both of them last week. Both are honing lists of cuts--painful cuts, maybe, but cuts you can do instead of raising taxes and slashing pay. Mayor Laura Miller is already scouring out places in City Hall like the five-person Office of International Affairs. She thinks one person could handle the burden of greeting foreign dignitaries, a savings of $400,000. She's got an idea from other cities about declaring some kind of amnesty day to encourage people to pony up unpaid fines without having to fear arrest. She said it's worth more than a million bucks to the city. She also said the city pays $15 million a year in Christmas bonuses.

Do you get a Christmas bonus?

Rasansky is very interesting on this topic, because he's a business guy, and he has that instinct that successful business people have for cost cutting. He knows that the margin between success and a mess is often in fractions of pennies. He told me about a manipulation of 20-year bond financing that I did not understand at all. He said he had described it to another council member, whom he did not name, who probably didn't get it any better than I did, but whom he quoted as saying, "Well, Mitchell, maybe you could save a couple million with that, but so what?"

Oh, my. There are certain things I don't even want to hear.

So here's the point. I predict our local political coalition, the Dallas Party-Time Party, will push the council to seek a tax hike that will be above the so-called rollback rate. And if they do, that will allow the citizens of the city to force a rollback election. This involves a bunch of calculations and state laws way too arcane to go into here, but it paves the way for my grand discovery.

Da bomb!

Rollback elections are pretty stupid. If the council goes above the rollback rate on a tax hike, then we would have to go through all this rigmarole with petitions and so on. And the best we could do, even if we won, is force the council to go back to the rollback rate, not even the old rate. Difficult to follow? Yeah, now try to imagine mounting a big campaign about it.

"BACK TO THE ROLLBACK RATE!"

A massive glazing-over of eyes.

But guess what? A sort of accidental clue caused me to spend an afternoon poring over our venerable City Charter, adopted in 1907 in the glory days of the original Muckrakers and Progressives. And guess what we have? It's not a part of Texas law. Only certain home-rule cities have it.

Initiative and Referendum. It's in our charter.

It's waaay better than a rollback election. We can pass laws. We can pass any laws we want. Let's say a heads-up group got together and agreed on the following ordinance: "The city council shall hereby take its heretofore aforesaid notwithstanding tax hike and put it where the sun doth not shine. Then the council shall go back to the drawing board and come up with enough cuts to cover the entire shortfall without raising taxes, cutting salaries, giving away any more money to that son-of-a-bitch in Hawaii or taking any funds at all from the following services (a list follows)."

They have to call an election on it. It's the law.

According to the charter, it takes certified signatures on petitions from 10 percent of the city's "qualified" voters to force a referendum. I checked, and that would be about 60,000 signatures, according to the last election results. You have to notify the city secretary you're going to circulate petitions, and then you have 60 days to get it done.

OK, six teams of 10 workers, each team with a leader. That's 66 people. Each team member has to get 1,000 signatures. Over 60 days, that's about 17 signatures a day. The team leaders are working to check voter registration numbers and make sure the signatures are all copacetic.

You telling me that couldn't be done? You said we can't fight City Hall, they're all a bunch of suits down there, they're goofballs, they're numbskulls, they're going to do what they want to do anyway, so it's useless, and it's boring. But wouldn't this at least be fun? There are plenty of smart people out there like Pat Cotton or Lorlee Bartos who could run the election campaign.

So what's the holdup? Middle-class taxpayers of the city, arise! You have only your tax liens to lose!

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