By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
4) So far, the Dallas Citizens Council is getting what they paid for…
Although he’s only been in office two months, Leppert hasn’t forgotten the people who created him. All of his positions so far have been pro-business, and arguably at the expense of the folks Laura Miller occasionally cared about. His opposition to Hunt’s referendum is a boon to developers and area business owners and a poke in the face to the rest of us who would like to have a functional park downtown. Then on Wednesday, the mayor also voted in favor of making it easier for oil and gas companies to drill on public land, rejecting calls from Hunt and Rasansky to toughen the restrictions on where they can operate. Even the mayor’s decision to scrap verified response may come at the expense of regular citizens if the police can’t show up in time to a mugging because they’re at the scene of a false alarm at a North Dallas boutique.
“In my opinion it was a victory of the private interests over the public interests,” says Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia, who argued in favor of verified response.
Give the mayor credit, however, for being predictable. Of all the bromides the mayor proffered during the campaign, almost none of them touched on neighborhoods. Instead, Leppert focused exclusively on expanding the tax base, which now means making life as easy as possible for business owners.
5) Leppert is starting to discover that his opponents were right.
During the campaign, Leppert attacked rival Max Wells (remember him?) when Wells called for a referendum on a sales tax to pay for more police officers. Again and again, Leppert said he was confident the city could put more cops on the street without hiking taxes.
“We've got to use the existing budget structure to address our priority,” Leppert told the Morning News in March.
Later, during the run-off, Oakley challenged him to explain how he’d hire more cops without raising taxes or cutting services. In one debate, Oakley offered to go back to his car and retrieve the budget book for Leppert to peruse.
Leppert should have taken him up on it. Mary Suhm’s proposed $2.65 billion budget, which puts 200 new officers on the street, calls for a tax rate increase of 2.17 cents per $100 in property valuation. Leppert says that he’d like to whittle that number down to zero, but his own chief of staff acknowledges how difficult that’s going to be.
“Everybody would love to get the needs of their city met without a tax increase,” says Chris Heinbaugh, the former ace reporter for WFAA-Channel 8. “Everybody is working toward that goal, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”
Heinbaugh adds, “He’s going to work very hard to get it down to zero. He ran on that and that’s important to him. But there are 14 other council members, and they have priorities for their district and for the city.”
Of course, Leppert’s opponents already explained those political realities during the campaign, but he merely scoffed at them without offering a detailed plan of his own. I asked Leppert this week what he'd do if he had to make a choice between keeping two campaign pledges--putting more officers on the street and not raising taxes--and he explained to me that he wanted to do both. If he does, kudos. But just about nobody thinks that’s going to happen.
Says Hunt, “Mary Suhm’s budget calls for a tax increase and that’s what we will be voting on.”