By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
This is a story about Tom Leppert, our mayor and a $27-million-dollar stickup he tried to pull out at the airport last week, but it's also about Jim Schutze winning the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.
Last week Leppert tried to get the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to give the city $27 million in money that was not the city's money. The city didn't have it coming.
In fact, the airport would have committed a federal crime by giving the money to Leppert, but he wanted it anyway.
The airport, the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration all reacted to Leppert's maneuver with a response I can only summarize as, "Call 911!"
They shut it down in a hurry. Leppert went home empty-pocketed. When I called his spokesperson for comment later, I was told: "We don't have anything to add. It's a moot point."
Getting caught doesn't make it moot in my book, but that's not the real reason I want to write about this saga. The real reason is so that I can introduce a law of economics I have invented, for which I think one day I may win a Pulitzer Prize, possibly the Nobel, if I can just get it out there under my name.
It's a very complex principle—extremely arcane and academic but a major, major breakthrough. My economic principle is the law of "My TV Set, Your TV Set."
Let's say I have a really nice TV set—the biggest, flattest, most high-def digital-audio fantasmagastic TV set ever manufactured. And you have a little Chinese cheapo TV set that sucks.
You love my TV set. My TV set is the TV set of your dreams. But you can't have my TV set. Know why?
It's my TV set.
I am convinced that the rule of My TV Set, Your TV Set (copyrighted by Jim Schutze) is at the heart of most of the dislocation, violence, unhappiness and even tragedy of our world. An excellent indication of how hard it is for people to grasp it is this: Our mayor, who attended Harvard and was a White House fellow, went out to the airport last week and tried to walk off with their TV set.
In January, the airport sold land to the state for a new highway and got $42,151,877 in return. Leppert wanted the airport to give that money to the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Dallas' share would have been about $27 million and Fort Worth's about $15 million. He introduced a special resolution to a special called meeting of the airport board, of which he is a member, telling the FAA that the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth "should be allowed to retain the proceeds from the sale of airport right-of-way to the Texas Department of Transportation and should be allowed to use such proceeds for non-airport purposes."
Uh, no. Every time D/FW Airport gets a federal grant, it signs a covenant containing certain terms to which it agrees in order to get the money. In addition to those covenants, overarching federal law also governs federally supported airports.
One of the big underlying principles both in the grant agreements and in federal aviation law is that federally supported airports cannot engage in what is called "diversion of revenue." They cannot, by federal law, take money they make by operating the airport or selling off parts of it and give that money to local units of government.
I'm trying to figure out how Leppert and the Dallas city attorney missed that one. I went out to the airport for the board meeting. I got kicked out right away, of course. Executive session. But I did see Dallas City Attorney Tom Perkins there. In fact I shook his hand on my way to being kicked out. But now I can't get Perkins to call me back.
Personally, I found that the "no diversion" law was nowhere near as hard to dig up or understand as the law of My TV Set, Your TV Set. I found the No Diversion of Revenue principle in 20 minutes on Google.
I also called up the FAA, using the older, more primitive technology known as "My Telephone."
When I asked the FAA for its position on giving the land-sale money to Leppert, Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the FAA in Fort Worth, gave me one of the more unequivocal answers I believe I have ever received from a federal agency. He said that the FAA had not yet received such a request from anyone at the airport, but should such a request arrive at the agency, "The answer would be no."
I was taken aback. I'm not even used to hearing that word. Just two letters? N-O? So bald, so blunt. Usually it's something more like, "Such a request would be viewed with concern." Just, "No?"
"No," he said.
He explained to me that the airport was not even legally able to sell the land to the state in the first place without seeking prior approval from the FAA. Before granting that approval, the FAA had required the airport to sign a covenant in which it promised that it remembered, once again, that none of the money from the sale could be diverted to other units of local government.