The Devon tax increment district tax grab sailed through the City Council with only one vote in opposition (Ward 5 Brian Waters). The representative from my ward, Meg Salyer voted “yes”. Not a promising start, from my viewpoint I guess. She also hasn’t quite gotten into the routine of responding to consituents letters. Being on the council requires a steep learning curve, hopefully she will get around to that.
According to the Oklahoma Gazette, our public schools will lose more than $100 million in tax revenue as part of this deal over the next 25 years. The library system and public health department will also lose revenue.
The Oklahoma City School Board was not consulted about this decision, nor were the boards of the libraries and other public entities that will lose money on the deal. Their representatives gave approval without a public debate on the merits.
Devon Energy was quite clear on the deal. No TIF district, No Devon Tower. Thus we see their commitment to Oklahoma City. Sure, they like this town, so long as they get to dictate the use of the tax money their project will pay. Nice work if you can get it, but it is only available to the rich and powerful.
Tax increment financing is one of the newer tools in the on-going growth of corporate welfare. The yadda yadda yadda is that “these projects are great, they will boost tax revenue, create jobs,” yadda yadda yadda. Well, I’d like to see the signed contract obligating Devon to supply all these great results. Also, an agreement that they will never be bought out by a larger corporation and moved to Houston, leaving us with a big empty albatross of a building.
This is not without risks for the taxpayers. As I understand their plans, they intend to issue bonds to spend this money right away, to be paid for by the property taxes levied on this building. That makes a lot of assumptions about the economy over the next 25 years. As we are in the leading edge of the Second Great Depression, it doesn’t seem particularly prudent right now to incur such a large debt on the speculation that there will be the money to pay it. Oklahoma is littered with the grand buildings of former energy companies that once were on the top of the energy heap, but are now only records in the filing cabinets in Houston and elsewhere of the corporations that bought them. In the event of a default, we could find ourselves stuck with large property tax increases to pay for all this largesse, at a time when few if any of us could afford the increase.
This demand for control over these tax revenues says a lot about the character of the principals at Devon Energy, as well as the character of our local political leaders who rushed this deal to approval. Instead of being willing to be treated like all other taxpayers, Devon demands special treatment. And they’re getting it. We obviously have the best local government our economic elite can buy.
For a supposedly conservative state, we sure do have a lot of “socialism for the rich”. Our mayor, allegedly the most conservative mayor in the United States, has never seen a welfare for the rich check he wasn’t eager to sign and the City Council seems disposed to go along with the various schemes.
Let’s all raise an appropriate salute to Devon president Larry Nichols, the newest Corporate Welfare Queen of the State of Oklahoma.