Vision Quest

Talk about mixed emotions. Here I am a Democrat. We just swept the county. Why don't I feel better? I'll tell you why: Laura Miller.

Last week I drove out of the basement of City Hall with my heart in my shoes. I'd just finished an hour and 45 minutes with Herroner, the mayor. I know the mayor's office is supposed to be non-partisan, but, c'mon. She's a Democrat. So I'm pulling out of the garage thinking to myself, "Why do we Democrats always have to live up to our stereotype? Or live down, as the case may be."

She and I were talking about her version of the Trinity River Project, the one she has been vigorously championing after bringing consultants here to redesign it three years ago. I had just done a big open-records demand for the numbers. You can't ask City Hall an honest question any more. You have to threaten to sue them to get them to tell you what time it is.

So I spent several days crunching the numbers in spreadsheets — their numbers, remember — and I came up with the fact that Miller's redesign has produced a potential local liability of more than a billion dollars, as opposed to the $246 million we were told we would have to pay when we passed a bond election in 1998.

Miller, who makes a big show of being a sharp-pencil pusher, had never seen the numbers. She had never even seen her own consultant's numbers for the ultimate cost of those stupid Calatrava bridges.

Top city staff people were present, including the city manager. At one point Miller asked the staff where my numbers for the cost of the bridges came from. Pause. Eyes averted. Very quietly: "From the consultants."

Yeah, mayor. Like, from YOUR consultants. You've been going around town touting these bridges, and you never even asked what the price tag was?

She does all this stuff for the cameras about beating up on some guy for a tax break that means bupkus in the grand scheme of things. That's all calculated to mobilize her North Dallas a'ginner base. But she never even figures out the price tag for her own grand "vision." (How I hate that word. When people start talking to me about visioning, I always figure they need to shut up and get back on their damn meds.)

So I drove away wondering why we Democrats have to be like that. Today I see in the paper that Ron Natinsky's reaction to the overwhelming passage of the $1.35 billion city bond package was: Maybe we should have gone for $2 billion. Talk about visioning!

Last week after I interviewed Miller I spent some time talking to and reading articles by Chris Edwards, director of tax policy for the Cato Institute in Washington. Edwards makes a convincing and very depressing case that local governments seriously cripple themselves over time by borrowing money to do everything instead of passing an honest tax hike if that's what's truly needed. Why am I talking to a guy at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, and, more to the point, why am I listening to him? And why am I so down on my Democratic mayor?

Why don't I just start lobbying for a personal bond item. Couple mil. Just for moi. Item 52 on the next bond program. Two million dollars for Jim Schutze for helicopter trout fighting expeditions in Siberia.

O.K., O.K., I'm feeling a little better. I think we can work something out here. Forget everything I just said. Sorry I mentioned it. Democrat Pay Day! Rich at last, rich at last, thank God almighty, we are rich at last. --Jim Schutze

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky