Jerry-rigged

Jones' stadium tax is in for one rough fight

Dave Capps is the van rental guy campaigning against a $400 million tax subsidy for a new Dallas Cowboys football stadium. I'm sitting in his office at the van place. He's been talking reasonably and seriously about alternative financing schemes for football stadiums. But, you know, reasonableand serioushave a certain effect on me. I'm thinking reasonably and seriously about a nap.

I offer my two-bit opinion that guys like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks must sit around the Robber Baron's Club bragging how they can pick City Hall up by its skinny little ankles and shake out whatever money they want.

He jumps at me. "Not the Bass brothers!"

He's halfway up out of his chair. This is the part I came for.

"What is it with these guys?" he shouts.

He wants me to get the difference between Jones, who pulled strings in Austin to get a multimillion-dollar subsidy for a new football stadium, and the Basses, the famously civic-minded Fort Worth billionaires who spearheaded Cowtown's downtown revival.

Jones told Forbes magazine four years ago he could get a billion dollars for the Cowboys--pretty nice, given that he had paid $140 million for the team and the stadium 11 years earlier. Capps wants to know why, instead of trying to juice the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize his business, Jones doesn't create a new stadium himself from his own revenues and give it to the public.

"What a fantastic thing for a person like that, who has a bad reputation in Dallas anyway, to give a legacy back?" He stares and waits for an answer; he nods; he jabs around a little. "What's he going to do with the money, Jim?"

I don't say nothing. I don't know nothing.

"He could show his class!"

I missed that one.

"Jerry Jones could show his class by putting his own money into this. He could say, 'Dallas, you have been good to me. Dallas, you have been good to me and my family. Since I've been here, I've been very successful.'

"Who's he going to give it to, his kids?"

I think Capps is an interesting guy, and I have a strong sense that his campaign, which he has dubbed "No Jones Tax," is the harbinger of a whole new generation of grassroots political action in Dallas. This is not a bunch of courageous gadflies martyring themselves before the juggernaut. Capps is a serious businessman, and he's clever. He is rolling out his campaign early and strategically, with professional help and an eye toward major alliances. It's true he's not a member of the old boys club downtown, but I don't know how long being a member of that club continues to guarantee victory.

Who knows who will win this one? No date has even been set for an election on the proposed stadium tax. Last year, after Jones had distributed $140,000 to various Texas legislators through an Austin lobbying firm, he went to Austin and quickly found a pair of eager acolytes in the Senate--Senators Royce West and John Carona of Dallas--to help him pass a tax law for his new stadium. The new law will press a 6 percent tax on rental cars and a 3 percent tax on hotel rooms to provide money for Jones, but first these taxes have to be approved by Dallas County voters in a referendum.

Capps runs the independent van rental business he and his father started in 1972, when Capps was 19. He owns a Ford dealership in Tyler and interests in other businesses. He's especially mad at the stadium tax because it would hit his business.

Capps argues that promoters of the stadium tax are telling the public a great big fat despicable lie when they say the proposed tax on rental cars won't hurt anybody in Dallas. He points out that almost all of the cars rented at DFW Airport generate sales tax to Tarrant County, not Dallas County. The vast preponderance of car rentals in Dallas County, he says, are made by Dallas County residents, who will have to pay this tax or rent their cars in Collin County.

But he also argues that it's fundamentally wrong and sleazy to tax two specific industries, rental cars and hotels, in order to deliver the money to a third specific industry. It's like the county sticking a gun in the faces of the car rental businesses and the hotels and telling them, "Give your money to Jerry."

"Let me tell you something," he says. "Every business owner in the world should be in my shoes one day. Every business owner. I don't care what business you're in. They should have to see some tax proposal that taxes their customers only in their specific business, and that business has to collect taxes and give that money to another person's business.

"Not give it to the state. Not fund a homeless shelter. Not fund the schools. Make the customers only of your business give their money to a private enterprise. Everybody should go through this one time."

Now that I get. I definitely get that. We all know why West and Carona came up with a tax on hotels and rental cars. It was the path of political least resistance. They don't think those industries can fight back, because they don't believe those industries have strong local voting constituencies.

But if they're right, then who's the next weak sucker industry to get milked for the benefit of some rich honcho with hired guns in the Legislature? How about a special tax on rendering plants, 25 cents for each dog and a nickel per cat rendered? The total take to be delivered in cash on Christmas Eve to the home of Jerry Jones in bundles wrapped with red and gold foil.

Just to avoid any possible misunderstanding: The preceding paragraph was intended as a joke. It was in no way meant to be a serious proposal for consideration by Senators West and Carona as potential legislation. Now that it's out there, local rendering plant operators would be advised to kick over a little campaign contribution to the forenamed senators in order to avoid unhappiness.

One of the nasty ironies I can't make myself forget in this, by the way, is that John Carona was a major factor in the defeat of a proposed half-cent sales tax in 1992 to restore Fair Park. He was zealous in defeating a one-time-only two-year tax to save a public treasure--a key community asset--which he painted as a form of socialism. But he's a team leader in the effort to impose a tax to go into the personal pocket of Jerry Jones. I guess that's OK because it's not socialism. It's theft. I also guess Fair Park's problem was that it didn't have $140,000 in grease to spread around Austin.

I tried to reach Carona and West last week, but neither returned my calls.

Let me tell you just how much of a team leader Carona is. When he helped pass the Jones tax in Austin, his work for Mr. Jones was not done. A few weeks ago, when Mary Kay cosmetics announced it would pull its 50,000-delegate summer seminars from Dallas if the stadium tax were approved by voters, Carona wrote a letter to the editor of The Dallas Morning News accusing Mary Kay of being "shortsighted" and a "bully."

Mary Kay? A bully? What next? Mother Teresa, you ignorant slut!

At the end of last week, Capps held a formal "kickoff" event for the No Jones Tax campaign at a hotel on Stemmons Freeway. When I arrived, he and his supporters were muttering over a letter they had received hours before the event from Senators Carona and West and Senator Bob Deuell of Greenville. Naturally, since the letter was personal and private, I asked to see it. Understandably, they gave me a copy.

Signed by all three senators ("John," over Carona's name at the bottom), the letter basically asked Capps to call off his dogs. The three solons urged Capps "and others who may have concerns" to hold off on "rendering a final opinion" until all of the details of the Jones deal have been negotiated. Wow, those senators must have some serious skin in this game.

I'm trying to think what their letter even means. Two guys come out into the middle of the street at high noon and face each other with six-shooters. But one of them says, "I'd like you to hold off on drawing, sir, until I'm done sighting in this new weapon."

Gee, I don't think so.

Capps' kickoff event was well-attended. One suspects the crowd of more than 100 probably was augmented by everyone who ever worked for Capps rentals. Some of the evening was pretty awkward and staged. But compared with the grassroots campaigns that have preceded it in recent Dallas history, this one was Oscar night.

A professional public relations firm distributed very useful press kits. Radio personality Alex Burton gave a bitingly funny speech. Longtime anti-stadia gadfly Sharon Boyd agreed to stay away, to help give the effort its own fresh start.

Capps is clearly hoping other deep-pockets opponents of the tax, especially in the hotel industry, will start pumping money his way once they see him on the dance floor and decide he's cool. For my two bits, I predict that's exactly what will happen.

I think Capps is going to give the boys the toughest run for their money they've ever had. So we're ahead either way, you and I. Win, lose or draw, at least we've got a horse race.

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