Get real

Dallas city councilman John Loza has been an elected official for only six months, but you'd never know it. Because when he opens his mouth--which he does frequently and with no small degree of self-importance--there is no doubt in his voice, no hesitation, no sign of a learning curve for this 34-year-old lawyer.

Take the sports arena. Loza adores the idea of giving $125 million of the city's money to sports team owners Ross Perot Jr. and Thomas Hicks. And he despises anyone who calls such a subsidy "corporate welfare."

"It's time for these people who claim corporate welfare to get off their high horses, and let's face reality," Loza said loudly, hair slicked back, teeth bared, as he addressed his fellow council members at a special arena meeting on November 14. "The reality of this situation is crystal clear and simple--this will be a project that will benefit Dallas. And either you're for Dallas and for this project, or you are against Dallas and against this project...And you hurt our city in the process."

And how can Mr. Loza be so certain that building a new arena is a wonderful thing--and opposing a new arena such a treasonable thing?

"When I was campaigning for the city council...and when I was knocking on doors and having a chance to talk to people all over my district," Loza went on to say that day, "my thoughts on the arena were this: I would not support any proposal that was going to wind up raising taxes on the guy that drives the truck, or the kid that washes dishes, or the woman who answers the telephone at a law firm, or any of the other ordinary people in my district who are being socked enough with taxes, quite frankly.

"I wasn't going to support anything that was going to put an additional burden on them," Loza said. "I think I have remained true to that promise. This project is a good project, and it is a good project if for no other reason than it does not raise taxes on the average working person in this city."

Well, John Loza, to use your own blustery terminology--let's face reality.
Let's introduce you to Kevin Meyers. And Kathy Mead. And Jayne Larson. And Patty Jones. And countless other "average working people" in this city--all of whom will be saddled, if Mr. Loza gets his way, with paying taxes for a new arena.

The No. 1 myth about the proposed new arena is that "tourists" will pay for it, not Dallas residents. The mayor says so. The media says so. Most of the council members say so.

Here, for example, is an excerpt from the first paid political handout from the pro-arena faction, which is poised this month to unleash $1 million worth of radio, TV, and direct mail--all to get people to vote "Yes!" to higher taxes on January 17:

"Q: How will the City of Dallas pay for its investment?
"A: The city's investment will come from two tourist taxes. A car rental tax of 5 percent and a hotel occupancy tax of 2 percent."

No one's arguing that hotel taxes aren't tourist taxes--after all, how many Dallas residents stay at local hotels, except maybe to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary?

But rental cars are a different matter entirely. "Our company does $30 million a year in revenues generated by our Dallas-based offices--our 30 offices located in the city of Dallas," says John Grimes, president of Enterprise Rent-a-Car for the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "And 85 percent of our business is local--auto dealers, weekend renters, body shops, neighborhood renters who might need a van for a special purpose. It's not people coming in at Love Field. It's just not a tourist tax. And I just would like to be able to explain it."

He's been trying. When the city council voted last month to approve the arena deal--which included the higher car rental tax, subject to approval by voters in January--Grimes immediately called and faxed councilwoman Barbara Mallory Carraway, in whose district Enterprise's headquarters are located.

But Mallory Carraway wasn't interested in Grimes' information about who rents cars in the city of Dallas. Nor was she interested in how inflated and unrealistic Grimes believes the tax revenue predictions are for those rental cars--a whopping $3.6 million a year, according to the city's numbers.

"This is a city of Dallas tax--meaning D/FW Airport car rentals aren't included," Grimes says. "So where's all this money going to come from?"

(The revenue predictions are indeed wobbly. Perot's attorneys assured the city last March that the additional car rental tax would raise $6.8 million a year for the arena; the state comptroller told the city in September that the figure was $2 million; and City Manager John Ware is telling the council $3.6 million.)

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Laura Miller