Drunk Tellers

Run down to the City Council Bank. They're giving money away!

Mayor Laura Miller and Councilman Mitchell Rasansky, whose district this thing is in, both told Harvest Partners they were not going to get a $20 million TIF to come into prime real estate that would be developed anyway without them. It's not what TIFs are for, and it's stupid for the city to kiss off that much tax revenue when somebody else would come in right behind Harvest Partners, should they drop out, and pay full freight.

To make a long, ugly story short, Harvest Partners, working with council members Bill Blaydes and Ed Oakley, redid their politics: They added another mil for themselves but also added $12 million for the poor people a few blocks away in Vickery Meadow.

The council ate it. They signed off on a $33 million tax rebate, $12 million for the poor folks' area but $21 million to the high-end development on prime real estate, exactly where the city needs to collect money, not give it away.

During the council debate on the Harvest Partners TIF, Rasansky complained bitterly that the rest of the council, with the exception of the mayor, was being suckered. Not only was the announced purpose of the TIF a transparent deception, but there was never any need to give Harvest Partners a tax break in the first place to get them to build their $400 million development.

"You're going to build it anyhow," Rasansky told Tod Ruble of Harvest Partners.

He said he had spoken with two other developers who intended to do $350 million in development--theirs in the Vickery Meadow area, not over on prime land next to the expressway--and those developers had never even thought to ask for a TIF. He pointed out that Ray Nasher just doubled the size of NorthPark right across the expressway without a TIF. He pointed out that Mockingbird Station just south of there didn't get a TIF.

"You said if you didn't get the $21 million," Rasansky told Ruble, "you're going to put a Wal-Mart there. You told several people that. Well, I don't care. Put your Wal-Mart there. I do not want the citizens of Dallas to give up $21 million in future taxes. I commend you, and I thank you as a developer for stepping forward and building there. But not at the expense of everyone in the city who needs the money."

After the council voted 13-2 in favor of the $21 million tax cut for Harvest Partners, Rasansky ruefully summed up: "All I can say is they out-pokered us. They played a great game of poker with us, and they won, and their PR firm won. The losers are the citizens of Dallas and the people who pay taxes in this city. Those are the people who lost."

I had a long conversation recently with Mayor Miller about TIFs and other giveaway programs at City Hall. Her take was somber and troubled. She said unless it's Rasansky, who just happens to have strong principles in this area, it's almost never in the interest of any other council member to say no to anyone.

If they say no, they earn an enemy. If they say yes, they have a friend and supporter. "And if at the end of the year we need 600 more cops and we don't have the money," she said, "they don't see the connection."

At the end of the debate on the Harvest Partners TIF, Miller said to the rest of the council: "I just want to remind everybody that when we do a budget this fall and our revenues do not match our expenditures, that we are looking at yet another property tax [hike], our third in four years.

"I feel like we ought to be a lot more careful with how and when we give away our money, and I do not feel that we are being prudent today."

You know what the response was? Silence. No response. Because they all figure, "Not my job. I just give the money away. I'm not in charge of counting it."

So I don't know. How much pride can voters take in shooting down the strong mayor initiatives when this is what we're left with? I don't even know what we passengers can do on a ship of state like this. Keep bailing, I guess.

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