Charter amendment joins anti-hotel vote on May election ballot

Maybe you saw the news on page 5B of the Dallas News metro section: "Petition on developer subsidies validated, charter referendum likely in May." In shorthand, here’s what this proposed city charter amendment means: Any time the city decides to subsidize a private developer to the tune of $1 million or more, 500 registered voters can sign a petition to force a citywide vote on the subsidy.

Now, in one respect, that sounds like a good idea if you are one of the Dallas residents who thinks at least some members of the city council are a little too free with our money these days. But in reality, it’s a lousy idea: What developer is going to enter into a deal with the city if he/she believes a city referendum is inevitable and he/she will be drug through the mud for months? Wouldn’t it just be easier to build in Arlington?

I’m not arguing that the council hasn’t made mistakes with taxpayer money — the pending taxpayer-owned convention center hotel deal downtown is, in my opinion, a perfect example, and it’s the impetus for this referendum, which appears to have been put together by a union group angered because the city wouldn’t agree to guarantee enough union labor for the new hotel. (That’s the risk of putting the city into the position of being a private developer.)

The group, which obtained 32,000 signatures to put the charter amendment proposal on the ballot, actually expected a November vote, but the city secretary told the News that the proposal will be on the ballot in May, along with all of the city council members and the no-hotel vote that may or may not be binding, depending on who’s talking.

Here’s an idle thought, based on nothing but reading Jim Schutze in the Dallas Observer too much: Why would the city schedule the charter amendment vote (something virtually no one in town thinks is a good idea) along with the vote on the hotel (which quite a few voters aren’t behind) on the same day? Isn’t that kind of risky, considering that voters angered by the hotel deal might vote for anything to restrict what they see as a devil-may-care council?

Actually, it might be a brilliant tactical move by the mayor, who I imagine is pulling the strings on the election date. If the expected high-dollar campaign defending the convention center hotel can be retooled away from explaining the $500-million-plus in taxpayer money being spent on the hoteland instead be turned into a knock-down, drag-out referendum on union interests and outsiders trying to destroy Dallas, the mayor and his backers might have a better shot at winning both votes.

Arguing that spending all of that money at this juncture in the nation’s economy could be a very tough sell. Arguing that this traditionally non-union city and state risk being overrun with New Yorkers intent on destroying our way of life might actually play well.


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