"Sure. I'm gonna get richer."

The problem is that it has never worked. In 10 years the city has never gotten richer fast enough to feed its debts, so it has been devouring its own flesh instead.

What's the other way? Easy. They come to us and say, "You should vote for this bond proposal so we can borrow $30 million for solar-powered water taxis on the river. And if you vote yes, we'll need to raise the property tax rate a penny to pay off the loan."

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.

Gonna be way fewer yes votes for solar-powered water taxis if they put it like that, and believe me, the people pushing these deals know that. So they just say, "Vote for the taxis," and then they start clapping their hands, nodding yes at us and not blinking their eyes. Got that mojo workin'.

Take the Trinity River toll road as a marker for all of this stuff about debt and big-ticket projects. We haven't built it. We don't have the money. Theoretically we could bail on it.

Candidate Ron Natinsky, a city council member from North Dallas, says the toll road is still a great idea and we should just do it. So we know where he stands on big ticket items.

Candidate David Kunkle, the former police chief, has said no and no way. Waste of money, forget it. Mark him down as basically not a big ticket guy.

Candidate Mike Rawlings, a former corporate chief executive and civic leader with major Citizens Council support, has said maybe, maybe not. Mark him down as too smart to say.

Last week I attended a "mayoral forum"—a thing so dull they should have posted warning notices. "Do not operate heavy equipment immediately after attending." What I wouldn't have given for a Red Bull. I went to hear more hints about the big ticket thing.

For me, big ticket is a proxy for debt, and debt is a proxy for how the candidates view the city's destiny. They're all against a tax increase, by the way. So if one of them wants more debt and no tax increase—betting that we'll pay for everything with "growth," by getting richer—then he is willing to gamble that we may wind up paying off our loans instead with more library closures and even crappier streets.

I don't offer my own view here as the right one, by the way. I'm a middle-class guy. I think you have to pay off the plumber before you can afford to park that Beemer out front. But I have friends who are entrepreneurs who sneer at me as hopelessly risk-averse. I question how entrepreneurial and risk-taking we need be about keeping the sewers flowing smoothly, but there you have it.

Kunkle, who is not always eloquent, spoke eloquently at the forum about the need for new priorities at City Hall. He called for a focus on the basic needs of neighborhoods, and he expressed skepticism about big ticket projects and some corporate tax abatements.

Rawlings, Mr. No-Say on the toll road, was eloquent about the city's gravely wounded school system. I know, I know—the mayor has nothing to do with the schools, but it's good to hear somebody in his position at least express empathy and concern.

But it was Rawlings' sign-off that caught my ear at the end of a very long evening:

"Every year I write objectives for myself from a business standpoint," he said, "no more than six or seven, because they become a laundry list beyond that. As mayor I would have about that same number. Objective Number One would be economic development. Objective Number Two would be economic development. Objective Number Three would be economic development. Objective Number Four is our schools, because it helps economic development."

So what do I hear in all that? I hear Natinsky saying, "Borrow the money," clap-clap, nod-nod, no-blink. I hear Kunkle saying, "Pay off the plumber, then we'll talk." And I hear Rawlings saying, "Let's get richer, and then we won't have to talk."

Who has the best line? I don't know. People just love the thing about rich and richer. And does anybody pay anything off any more? Then again, KA-CHUNK! Just hit another pothole.

The election is May 14. It'll get interesting in the last two weeks. You might enjoy listening up. But keep a Red Bull handy at all times.

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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.

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.

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.

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."

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!

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...

jumptex
jumptex

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

Peredechat
Peredechat

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

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

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?

Anna
Anna

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

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.,..

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.

Arnrob
Arnrob

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

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...

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.

 
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