How much too optimistic? Well, sales tax revenues the next year, instead of going up 20 percent, plunged again by more than nine percent. Depending on how you do the math, that puts them off by about 30 percent.

Now, the next year, DART did want to show that it had learned its lesson. It scrunched up its fists and forced itself to be way less optimistic, projecting a growth in sales tax revenues for the following year, 2003, of a measly three percent. The city of Dallas, which shares the same pot of sales tax money, projected a drop of 6.5 percent for that same year.

In fact DART's sales tax revenues fell by just over four percent that year, which meant that even its most scrunched-up-fist, self-controlled, teensy-bit optimistic projection was fat by seven percent.

DART always inflates its income projections and low-balls its costs so it won’t have to tell local power-wielders the truth: You can’t always have what you want.
Evan Clinton
DART always inflates its income projections and low-balls its costs so it won’t have to tell local power-wielders the truth: You can’t always have what you want.

Thirty percent too optimistic one year plus seven percent too optimistic the next: that's 37 percent too optimistic in two years. You begin to see how you could work your way up to 100 percent too optimistic, otherwise known as pockets-out.

And shocked! Shocked and dismayed!

I remember this about my friend when he pulled his pockets out to show me. No one in the world could possibly have been more stunned than he.

About this time, I think you would be justified in asking why. Why would a body like DART demonstrate such a consistent and even flamboyant penchant for exaggeration, knowing that eventually the piper must be paid? In fact, not just eventually. In DART's case, the piper shows up like the mailman, almost like he's got a route.

But the why is easy. Look, for example, to the city of Irving, now suffering the tortures of the damned—if public statements by local leaders are to be believed—because DART may have to delay construction of a new rail line to D/FW Airport.

Irving has a fair point. For decades its citizens have been paying sales tax into the DART kitty, and private investors have been lining up holdings near planned rail stations. There is real pain for Irving in any significant delay in construction of the line DART has been promising them.

Or look to downtown Dallas for what always seems to me like a much less reasonable complaint. At some point, hopefully sooner than later, DART must build a second set of train tracks across downtown to handle all of the new and additional trains coming through downtown from the new far-flung lines.

The alignment hasn't been chosen yet. But a lot of research has been done on possible routes—how many people would ride one versus another, how much the various routes would cost to build, how many stations each would accommodate and so on.

For the last two years The Dallas Morning News has been campaigning for what I call the Decherd Line, named by me for Robert Decherd, CEO of A.H. Belo Corp., the company that owns the Morning News.

The Decherd Line through downtown would attract the lowest number of riders of any of the possible alignments under consideration while carrying far and away the highest cost of construction. It would cost $839 million to build, compared to the line with the highest number of riders, which would cost only $511 million to build.

So why would the Morning News favor the Decherd Line? Because that line would run to the doorstep of the Morning News. The Decherd alignment reaches all the way across downtown to take in Belo-related properties and the new city-owned convention hotel, which Belo successfully campaigned to have built on its own property line in the otherwise moribund southwest corner of downtown.

For people like the beginner politicians appointed to the DART board, saying no to big shots is really hard.

Imagine them having to tell Robert Decherd, the Duke of Belo, that the cupboard is bare. I hope they know they won't be able to start by saying, "Sorry, Bob." Know why? We're not allowed to call him Bob.

Someone steps forward from a discreet shadow, takes one by the elbow and reminds one in a whisper that no one calls Mr. Decherd, Bob. It's Robert. Just to be safe, Mr. Decherd.

I don't know how much time you've spent around beginner politicians. I have a lot. Do you know what that does to them? Take a DART board member by his elbow and whisper in his ear, "Mr. Decherd is very disappointed that you have expressed a negative attitude toward DART's ability to raise the extra $328 million needed to build the Decherd Line." I can tell you exactly what the response will be:

"Me? Negative? Who said that? Who told you that? Tell me the bastard's name! Let me tell you something, Buster. You tell Mr. Decherd I'll put my optimism up against anybody's optimism! I'm so optimistic, as soon as I'm done talking to you I'm going to call Angelina Jolie and ask her for a date. That's how optimistic this guy is, Mister."

I guess I could regain my faith in DART some day. Next time you see me loaning money to reporters, you'll know I'm about ready to believe again. But by then, if you really want to see me, you might do well to call ahead for visiting hours.

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