We Need a Mayor Who'll Cut Up City Hall's Credit Card.

Honest question. Are you even aware there is a race going on now for mayor of Dallas? Honest answers only, please.

It's OK. Especially in the early phase, the mayoral election is a boring thing. I don't expect you to be on the edges of your seats clicking updates every two minutes like you did for the tsunami.

But think about it like this. Dallas is such a great place in so many ways, so much fun with so many things happening—a great leg-up market, great place to break in, good weather, lots of bars—and then why is the city itself such a piece of crap?

Of the top three mayoral candidates, Ron Natinsky (left) is gung-ho for the Trinity River toll road. David Kunkle (right) is down on it. And Mike Rawlings (center) is too smart to say.
Sam Merten
Of the top three mayoral candidates, Ron Natinsky (left) is gung-ho for the Trinity River toll road. David Kunkle (right) is down on it. And Mike Rawlings (center) is too smart to say.

I'm talking about potholes so bad they give you that jangled-head feeling like somebody just punched you in the helmet. I'm talking about city parks with litter blowing through unmowed weeds. Or you go to the Bachman Lake Public Library on Monday, and the damned thing is closed for the day.

So what's the deal? With all of this action going on, why can't the city keep up? Do we not pay enough taxes?

We could talk all day on that one. We pay high fees for things like water and city permits. Our property tax rate is lower than Fort Worth's, but it's substantially higher than the rate in Houston and way higher than the rate in Austin.

I don't think that's it, and here is where we circle back to the mayor's race and why you might actually want to pay a little bit of attention. The answer is buried somewhere in this election.

Last year city council member Angela Hunt (known here as "the smart one") did a very interesting analysis of the city's money problems. Hunt said it's not an issue of the tax rate, exactly. It's not spending, exactly.

Those things are factors, but they're not the fundamental drivers giving us crappy streets, worn-out flood control and shuttered libraries in a city that ought to be doing a lot better.

It's debt.

In the last 10 years, Dallas has borrowed money without raising taxes to pay for it. So if you keep a flat tax rate but you keep borrowing more money, then you have to take money away from running the city and use it to pay back your debt.

Bought a BMW? Didn't get a raise? That means you can't pay the plumber.

That's what Hunt found we have been doing. She compared the city budget for 2000-2001 with the budget for 2010-2011 and found that debt payments have gone from 14 percent of the overall city budget to 21 percent. Before you decide that's not so awful, please allow me to tell you what it did to the rest of the budget.

Let's talk about those potholes. The amount of money the city has for streets has been cut in half in the same period. Hey, as the city ages and the streets get older, it should cost more money, not less, to maintain them. But we've cut the streets budget in half.

Libraries: cut in half. That's why doors are closed. Parks: from $83 million to $50 million a year. And they're telling us they want to build a huge new park along the Trinity River. Who's going to operate and maintain it, the Boy Scouts?

It's not that we are not paying taxes. We pay taxes, but we're shifting too much of the city's financial burden from operations and maintenance to debt.

So next question: Are we just idiots? How did this happen? Aha. Back to the mayor's race again. The phrase you would listen for, in relation to this issue, is "big ticket items."

Big ticket items are major fancy public works projects that we don't absolutely need but somebody for some reason very badly wants to build for us—the whole Trinity River project but especially the zany underwater toll road they keep talking about, the deck park on the Woodall Rodgers Freeway downtown, the arts district, the faux suspension bridges over the Trinity.

For decades city politics in Dallas has been dominated by the public works construction lobby, expressing its will through groups like the Dallas Citizens Council and handing out money through various law firms and political consultants.

Are these all bad projects, bad for the city, a total waste of money? No. Not all of them. We voted for them. Were we wrong? No. Not always. But here's the key. The trick. The angle.

The same people who push the big ticket projects always fight against any tax increase to pay for them. You heard as a mantra from our former mayor, Tom Leppert, that we just cannot raise taxes under any circumstances.

So how do we pay off our loans? The only answer acceptable to the big ticket lobby is that we will make our bigger and bigger loan payments by getting richer and richer. By "growing the tax base."

Put yourself in the uncomfortable chair in front of the loan officer's desk, and try that one on for size in your own life. He says, "Mr. Schutze, here on the application under current debt, you have written 'eyeballs.' I suppose you mean as in, 'up to.' Can you tell me then how you would pay back this new $50,000 loan you want us to give you?"

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30 comments
Howard Hilmer-Tyson
Howard Hilmer-Tyson

I've lived in Dallas for almost twenty years now and each year I have seen Dallas City Hall have one scandal after another. Simply put the politicians down there are more concerned with looking good on paper and in the media. Ones like Price and his group of "good ole boys" need to go. And have needed for some time.The agenda's they have been running for well over the last decade have emptied the city's bank accounts and are costing the tax payers here more money every day. Streets go unimpaired and other city services are cut out because of the amount of debt the city has incurred in the last twenty years. Dallas has had to go to unpaid leave days because of the lack of money to pay city employees throughout the year. At least one day a month or more the city workers have an extra day off just so the city can make budget that month.The credit cards aren't the only things that need to be cut imho... The pay that the city council members get needs to cut, the suppliers for the city need to be put under the microscope to make sure the city isn't paying/buying supplies at inflated prices. In short the whole way the city of Dallas does business needs to be looked at and anything that is not needed needs to be cut. Likewise providers for the city need to be looked at and if they are over charging the city for supplies or services they need to be brought up on fraud charges and their contracts terminated. Plan and simple.And if any of the city council is found to be involved (kickbacks) they need to be fired. And that includes the mayor if he or she is involved. The bottom line is the people of Dallas need to hold the mayor and city council responsible for these problems the city is facing now. Time for new management in city hall.

Citizenforfairmedia
Citizenforfairmedia

It is unbelievable that DMN is still not reporting that there are FOUR candidates in the race for mayor in the city of Dallas.

Cece_56
Cece_56

But we'll still have Rick as HWBNC

Alex Roderer
Alex Roderer

sure fix the pot holes and then live in a ugly peice of crap city or have a nice city with cool things that people from around the world come to see and keep the crappy roads. maybe we should just invest more money in dart so you dont have to drive at al?

Scott R
Scott R

"So if you keep a flat tax rate but you keep borrowing more money, then you have to take money away from running the city and use it to pay back your debt."

I decided to stop reading once I remembered that you suck at math. Remember the whole thing about "tax rate" vs "taxes"? I think you and "the smart one" were all over it. I guess you forgot how that works already. Just because the "tax rate" stays the same doesn't mean that the "taxes" collected stay the same. The idea is to get more businesses and people into the city so that the actual taxes collected rise even the the tax rate stays the same. Whether that plan works or not - especially in the face of the worst economic recession in decades - can be debated, but comments like the one quoted above are ignorant at best and outright misprepresentations of the truth at worst.

cantgetfooledagain
cantgetfooledagain

I think Kunkle knows he can't get Dallas richer (doesn't have the skills or connections or been there/done that chops), so that's a good strategy for him. But I think that Rawlings can get Dallas richer and that pays for a ton of stuff that this city needs besides re-surfaced roads to attract corporations that bring much higher paying jobs. my money is on Rawlings.

Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

Jim I believe this is the correct frame for the problem. However, if the city is a business you cannot correct a debt problem by raising prices on your customers. Ms. Hunt and 7 other tax hikers thought you could. It was good for them personally but it was not good for the city. So we set about solving the problem. We keep the customers we have with fair prices(taxes). And we start having a conversation about what you are going to cut to pay the plumber. Families make the cuts to pay the plumber. Businesses make the cuts to pay the plumber. What do the 8 tax hikers say about this? Maybe in a future article.

Anon
Anon

Sure blame the city, not the electorate and the media that approves of bond proposals then balks when the bill comes due.

Clyons
Clyons

it's more than 3 people running for Mayor, when does the media stop excluding Okpa. This is "Unfair"

Derelict
Derelict

Jim, you give Rawlings entirely too much credit. You know exactly where he stands on this toll road non-sense. He just won't say it and doesn't have to. That's not what I would call smart, I call that cunning. He'll go to bat for his toll road peeps a minute after he is sworn in, should he win.

Nunya
Nunya

Well...looks like Okpa is still gettin the shaft *sigh* Actually surprising from you, Jim.

Andrew Corey Howard
Andrew Corey Howard

Right on Jim. Bishop Arts was a $2million dollar streetscape and infrastructure project. It results in over $10 million in additional tax revenue every year for the city. Small project pay big. We need 10 more Bishop Arts Districts. How about these in the Southern Sector, which all have the same form as Bishop, but lack the pedestrian friendly infrastructure:Tyler @ DavisVermont @ EwingMarlborough @ ClarendonCatherine @ Pierce Clarendon @ BeckleyElmwood @ Edgefield Commerce @ Ft. WorthAnywhere on Jefferson BlvdZang @ Eldorado Claredon @ Edgefield

Ticketcity Bowl - NOT
Ticketcity Bowl - NOT

Jim, great article.....Have you seen the briefing provided to the Dallas City Council today re: the Ticketcity Bowl. Here we are talking about "cutting up the credit card" and our city council is being asked by our Park Director to approve a resolution for a program to bail out the yet to be formed not for profit that "bombed" on a Cotton Bowl game this last year. Here we are worrying about the next Mayor, which we should, when the current Mayor is placing our city at risk with an organization that does not have a "organizational status" through a smokes/mirrors program to bail out their financial mess. Don't get me wrong, I am all for College Sports, but the Cotton Bowl's day as a sports mecca is over. Jerry World has replaced it and if the Cotton Bowl Assn is successful in securing a BCS game - after Phoenix bombed with its list of political payoffs, etc., then this new "real Cotton Bowl game at Fair Park", will for sure go away. It doesn't compete now and will not compete in the future. So why is our city council even considering such a program in light of pending state budget impacts on our city. Absolutely amazing that our council is even looking into such a proposal as was presented today at city council.

As to your topic, Chief Kunkle is a good guy but he is not a Mayor............the only candidate that will be able to lead is Mike Rawlings. Couldn't let Sharon have the last word on this one. Mike is the best candidate for Dallas Mayor.

Sharon Boyd
Sharon Boyd

The real difference is where they live. Kunkle lives in a regular neighborhood and lives like the rest of us. Natinsky's in a gated community and Rawlings's in Preston Hollow. Nothing wrong w/gated communities or Preston Hollow, but I want a mayor who lives like I do. When was the last time we had a regular guy as mayor? I guaranty you Natinsky or Rawlings could not find your neighborhood w/o a map, but David Kunkle probably knows your Crime Watch chair's name. Go, Kunkle!

jumptex
jumptex

Cut up the credit card of the Trinity Parkway staff/dept (toll road through the mud ditch) and save a fortune.

Joe
Joe

Mike Rawlings is the only real leader in this group, will to LEAD, make the TOUGH decisions and develop a PLAN to move our city forward. Mike has my VOTE

Anna
Anna

Go Kunkle...at least someone tells the truth. Rawlings is totally superficial -- no beef, no substance. Natinsky is just ego driven Natinsky.

Arnrob
Arnrob

Thanks for the informative article. It was the first thing I've read that will have any effect on my vote.

Montemalone
Montemalone

This is what happens when you hire republicans to run the government. Look what happened when the previous occupant of Pennsylvania Ave in DC and current occupant of Daria Pl in Preston Hollow was in charge. Deficits don't matter. Borrow the money, with bonds sold to rich guys who will collect the interest, then spend the borrowed money on the rich guys businesses. Rich guys get money, plus interest on the money, and they pay no taxes (relatively, don't make me explain it). Same thing here. Build hotels, which we don't need, gaudy overpriced bridges, anything that costs lots of money to be borrowed at high rates of interest. Don't worry about roads and parks and schools, cause the rich guys live in HP with good roads and good schools and nice parks.Remember, you can tell when a republican is lying. Lips will be moving.

Citizenforfairmedia
Citizenforfairmedia

Not surprising to me. The fact is Edward Okpa is out meeting the people of Dallas like a good MAYOR should do. He's shaking hands and listening to EVERYONE, not just attending Mayoral forums and waiting on someone like Jim Shutze to shaft him again... He's for the people of Dallas. He doesn't NEED to be mayor. He WANTS to be a public servant and serve ALL people. So the media can go and suck eggs for all I care. I'm sick of their UNFAIR media coverage.

Gangy
Gangy

My take on Rawlings is that he is serious about the "economic development" chant and will make sure his friends benefit greatly. I don't think he really believes it will improve the quality of life for all Dallasites. If he does believe that, he is very out of touch with most residents.

Kunkle impresses me as a true public servant, wanting to do a much better job on the basic city services. Kunkle will lead through walking the walk. Rawlings will lead by telling everyone "he knows what's best - trust him."

Just the facts, ma'am
Just the facts, ma'am

Rawlings as Homeless Czar went into areas of Dallas that most of Dallas residents probably have not or would not - and has seen more of what goes on in this City than most. While Kunkle may have been the top cop, he never once came to a neighborhood meeting (whether crime watch or to the association) in anything other than his capacity as cop and on the clock - just as he was paid to do so by the taxpayers of Dallas. Kunkle, now retired, has a pension through public sector employment - we the taxpayers pay for all that, too. When a private citizen gives a tremedous amount of their personal and professional time to the community year in and year out as Rawlings has done, that is compelling.

And while we are on the topic, we all like to bash Preston Hollow, but it would be nice to remember that the area represents one of the largest tax bases for this City - just think of what Dallas's finance would look like without it.

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

Wow Sharon, still using the same old line. Now how much of a jerk would you call someone if they lived in Preston Hollow or a gated community and said, I only want a Mayor who lives in gated communities not regular streets... That just doesn't make sense.

Last regular Mayor we had was Laura Miller... And I don't know a soul who wants to go back to that. But what do you know. Laura Miller and her regular self have popped up again with Kunkles campaign and her husband is Kunkles campaign treasurer!

But what does where a person live have anything to do with the Cities debt or tax rate or anything written in this article?

Give us something new please...

Peredechat
Peredechat

you're wrong - it's not a mud ditch - it's an open sewer

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

What city contracts do you have, or are hoping to have, that will be at risk if Rawlings is not elected?

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

What has he told the truth about?

Laura Miller backing him???? Being a democrat or republican??? Or maybe its how he would have handled those Love Field Contracts???

All of those he gave didn't have an answer.,..

Citizenforfairmedia
Citizenforfairmedia

It would help if they provided you with ALL the information you need to make a wise decision. That's what the media is SUPPOSED to do. Not provide you with their own opinion, but the true facts of the matter at hand. Point blank, there are four candidates in this race and whether Jim Schutze or anyone else thinks the fourth is viable or not, it's up to the people to make that decision and a real, professional, unbiased journalist would fairly report the facts...

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

you don't get to be chief of police of a religious and conservative city by being much of a democrat. go kunkle. the other two are empty suits saying cut taxes.

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

the republican, almost tea bagger leppert was on board for all those big ticket items you mentioned. so what if kunkle claims to be an independent. good for him. if he can run the police dept. he can run the city. and we have one of the lowest tax rates in the world. i am not for convention centers, etc. but if I have to pay $100 more in taxes a year, i'm willing to do so. and I only make $45K a year. if we would all pull our collective head out of our selfish ass, we could keep the libraries open, the roads fixed and the schools working in fine fashion. typical conservative voodoo economics from the other suits standing next to kunkle. and with the latino population so strong in our city, where is a hispanic candidate? why are 3 white old men all we have to choose from?

Oak Cliff Res
Oak Cliff Res

that's good for people to think that Kunkle is a Democrat, but why when questioned about his party affiliation by the DMN, he said neither, he liked to think of himself as an Independent. I guess you can speak for him on this issue though since he can't... No one has said anything about cutting taxes... Not raising taxes has been said by all candidates, but CUTTING TAXES by no one. Rawlings just gave a platform to tackle our youth crisis. What is Kunkles plan for Mayor other than not going for "big-ticket projects" and only running bc he doesn't want the next mayor to be hand picked by the citizens council??? I'll tell you what it is... Everything that Laura Miller wants, and also, 2 of the last 3 mayors were democrats (Kirk and Miller) which goes against that religous and conservative city, a conservative city wouldnt build Convention Center hotels and toll bridges on taxpayer dollars... Stick to reading comments and not posting one.

 
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