The public campaign against the taxpayer-owned downtown convention center hotel has begun: At the end of this post is a copy of the promotional flyer I received in my mailbox today.(Download convention_center_9.21.pdf)
Under the headline "Did You Approve This?" — knowing full well that we didn’t — the piece shows a check from "Every Dallas Taxpayer" to the City of Dallas for $400 million, actually listing what I think is a lowball estimate of the taxpayer’s share of the project. The 11-by-17-inch color flyer includes a list of "risks" purportedly associated with building a taxpayer-owned hotel ("higher taxes, cuts in public services, spiraling costs, bigger deficits"), complaints about no public input and then the debatable "no public benefit" along with a tear-off return postcard (you have to supply your own postage) saying the NoTaxpayerHotel.com people can count on you.
Here’s the interesting part: I believe the crux of the anti-group’s argument is wrong but will be extremely effective in building support. The groups argues that spending $400 million in taxpayer money on the hotel will cause cuts in city services (streets repairs, fewer police, less money for libraries, etc.).
My understanding of the hotel financing is that revenue bonds are sold based on the hotel’s projected revenue only; this isn’t money that we could borrow or obtain any other way to fix streets and hire police. But the "no hotel" people are tearing a page from the Trinity Tollroad people: Use an argument that scares people into crossing the line to your side, even if it isn’t completely true. The Trinity Tollroad people, led by Mayor Tom Leppert, repeatedly said that if we didn’t leave well enough alone and allow the North Texas Tollway Authority to pay for the tollroad, we would wind up paying higher taxes to build the tollroad ourselves someday.
This argument, in my opinion, was patently false, but it also was scary, and I think it caused a lot of people to decide in favor of "no new taxes" rather than weighing the other merits of the issue. So it’s ironic that two major public works projects (assuming this one reaches the referendum stage) could pivot on two erroneous but effective arguments.