Police and Fire Pension Fund Want to Invest in 'Infrastructure.' Whatever Could That Be?

This morning I found a story in my copy of The Dallas Morning News called "Dallas Police & Fire Pension System looks to reduce its real estate exposure." Translated into ordinary English, that headline would be: "Boson Six Pineapple Hiccup-Hiccup Do Not Read This Story."

Of course I rushed into the bathroom with it, held it up to the mirror and turned on my secret decoder ring. And there it was, glowing like a little jewel at the bottom of the haystack; paragraph 16 of the secret Masonic text says, "In fact, it [the pension fund] will probably increase its allocation for infrastructure investments, like toll roads, to 10 percent of net assets."

Oh, yes! There they go! The people behind the Trinity River toll road have found a way forward. Their poor little dim-witted Jack came back from market without the family cow, but look what he's got in his grubby fist instead. Magic beans!

The proposed toll road on top of the river couldn't get funded with normal federal highway dollars, you may remember, because not enough people would ever drive on it to meet the federal specs. Whatever you may think of our national government, the fact is that they don't want people to spend their money [our money] on roads nobody will ever drive on. And what would the other argument be?

Same with state highway dollars. Nothing much in that kitty either for the Trinity toll road and for the same reason. So where to go?

The people behind the toll road, whom I sometimes call the "Too Many Toddies Set" because I can't imagine another explanation, decided at some point in the past that they would go to their beloved private sector and finance the road with "bonds."

What kind of bonds? Just "bonds." Some kind of bond money that bond people give you.

Ah, but there's a problem there too, you see. In order to get the bond market to lend you money, you have to tell them a thing or two about your project. The first big disincentive for bond buyers would be the no-traffic-to-pay-the-tolls thing, because then, of course, the bond buyers would never get their money back. It's hard to get people to lend you money if they know in advance they're not going to get it back.

But that's not even the biggest problem with the toll road on the river. The really big disincentive for everybody -- Washington, Austin, bond market -- is what I call the bathtub issue. It's an engineering problem, but it's one that any of us can figure out by using our own bathtub at home as a model.

The Too Many Toddies want to build their highway out between the flood control levees along the river. With a certain amount of regularity, our twice-a-year monsoon rainy seasons fill that 23-mile-long 50-feet-deep half-mile-broad levee system with water almost to the brim. Think of it as a 23-mile long bathtub, full of water.

Now here's what I want you to do. Think of me as Mr. Science. Mr. Science wants you to get some toy cars made out of metal. Take the toy cars to your home bathtub. Place them on the bottom of the tub.

Now, insert the plug into the drain. Next, turn on both taps. Finally, observe. Patience, patience. Keep observing. OK, look. What has happened to the cars?

Golly. That's not a good thing, is it?

But that's the problem. Who is going to lend the Too Many Toddies money for their toll road if they know in advance that the toy cars at the bottom of the tub will wind up under water, or, in more colorful maritime terms, in Davey Jones' locker?

This is like an IQ test, isn't it? You see why I call them the Too Many Toddies?

Who would ever finance such a thing? Where will the Toddies get the money? Imagine the Toddies with their hands over their eyes, scouring the horizon for their little Jack, off to market he was this morning with the family cow, promising the poor old things he would come home with the funds they need.

So now he's back, and what's he got? A handful of beans. But these are special beans called the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund, presided over by local politicians. Hmm. The same politicians who have dutifully and obediently supported the Toddies and their toys-in-the-tub plan from the beginning.

Oh, Jack, you've saved the family! These are magic beans, indeed. We'll have a secret coded message published in the Too Many Toddies newspaper to let everyone know it's going to be all right, after all. The headline will say, "Toll Road Ninety-Eight Skivens Foutso Rooney," which will mean "We got the moolah!"

And what's the plan when the pension fund gets stuck holding the bag because the real cars are under water? No problem. We'll put a story in The Dallas Morning News telling people the whole story, frankly, honestly and according to due diligence, so we'll be covered.

The headline will be, "Pension Fund Fifty-Two Bean Curd Excelsior None of Your Damned Business."

I can get you one of these rings if you want it.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze