The news in the DMN that a New York union group has likely obtained enough votes to force an election on whether to require the city to seek voter approval before offering developer subsidies exceeding $1 million is a pretty frightening thing. Whether all (or even most) of the subsidies the city council handed out in recent years were worthwhile to anyone but the developers is a legitimate question, but to hamstring city officials by requiring voter approval every time a relatively big deal comes along would basically eliminate the city’s ability to help a developer get a good project underway. Few developers are going to hold up on a project pending a citywide vote.
Unfortunately, Mayor Tom Leppert will have only himself to blame if this initiative passes, either in May or November (depending on when enough signatures are certified by the city secretary). The union group decided to seek a referendum after apparently being rebuffed in negotiating a union contract with the city for Leppert’s taxpayer-owned downtown convention center hotel.
On a private development deal, the union and the property owner have this discussion quietly, with no political repercussions. But when the city is the property owner, everyone wants a piece of the $550 million pie, and they’ll be crying to the media when they don’t get it.
This group apparently was mad enough to take it a step further.
When Leppert worked in the private sector, he probably would have told the union to shove it and walked away without recourse. When he had the city do that same thing, the result is an initiative that could easily pass, potentially stifling development in Dallas for a long, long time.