The Metropolitan Area Projects tax " or MAPS " passed in 1993, and the consequences are all around us: new stadiums including the $92 million Ford Center, a new library, a revitalized downtown, a tourist economy. The original tax expired in 1999.
"MAPS 2," or MAPS for Kids, replaced the old MAPS tax in 2001 to direct sales-tax revenue into then-crumbling local schools. MAPS for Kids also was accompanied by a $180 million bond issue. The second installment of MAPS is due to expire in January 2009.
Since assuming his incumbency as mayor in 2006, Mick Cornett has talked about a prospective MAPS 3 to replace the expiring sales taxes, asking what voters want. Now, an extension for MAPS is unveiled: "MAPS for Hoops," a renovation of the Ford Center. The vote will take place on March 4, just before the NBA considers Seattle SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett's request for the team to leave Washington for Oklahoma City. The cost of renovating the Ford Center, which opened five years ago: $100 million.
The subtext is clear: no renovations, no franchise. Welcome to big-time professional sports.
The message from the community is also clear: Despite all the trash-talking detractors around the country (and especially in Seattle) saying that OKC metro residents won't support major-league sports, local fans voted with their feet for two years, packing the Ford Center with more than 18,000 people per game to watch the hurricane-displaced New Orleans Hornets. (This year, down in Louisiana, they're drawing just 11,000 per game.)
I don't vote in Oklahoma City; I don't shop in Oklahoma City. It is an easy thing to back a tax I won't pay. So, for my neighbors to the north, I'll pose some questions you deserve to have answered in the next seven weeks:
What are the economic benefits of having a major sports franchise? In the long run, if the MAPS tax extension provides more benefits than costs and OKC increases its market brand, this is probably a worthy investment.
What do metro residents desire or need? Back in 1995, MAPS was pointed to as a way to fix worn infrastructure. What data do we have on what people want or need now? Are new taxes necessary to meet those needs, or are there other means?
What are the other potential MAPS-styled initiatives? Cornett has indicated the other MAPS proposals are not yet fully developed, and given the time line for the Sonics decision, "MAPS for Hoops" had to move forward. But there is something else coming, to be sure. What is it? Is there to be "MAPS for Tracks" (mass transit) or "MAPS for Craps" (casinos)?
Has the public been educated on the value of temporary sales taxes as opposed to bonded debt? Projects funded by temporary sales taxes are attractive because the project and tax time line are known. If bonded debt pays for the Ford Center renovation, that debt will be paid in the future by Oklahoma City residents. If sales-tax revenue is used, payment will come from every taxable transaction in the city, and when the project is done and the tax expires, there will be no ongoing obligation.
That's it for now, until someone thinks up another half-MAPS idea.
Gaddie is professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and president of the Southwestern Political Science Association.