OKC voters decide to extend sales tax for MAPS 3

AP News
Posted: Dec 09, 2009 12:03 AM

Oklahoma City residents voted Tuesday to continue paying an additional one-cent sales tax that in recent years has helped transform downtown and provided a boost for local schools.

With all 271 precincts reporting, the third Metropolitan Area Projects proposal in 16 years passed with 54.3 percent of the vote out of about 75,400 votes cast, according to the Oklahoma County Election Board. Mayor Mick Cornett said he thinks the turnout was the largest ever for an Oklahoma City municipal election.

Under the $777 million MAPS 3 proposal, city leaders have promised a new downtown convention center and 70-acre park, a downtown streetcar system, bicycle trails, sidewalks, senior centers and improvements along the Oklahoma River. Proponents said the proposal will sustain what they call unprecedented progress in the state's largest city.

"This assures that the momentum is going to continue," Cornett said. "We're taking one of the strongest economies in the country and providing an extreme booster shot.

"I feel like we've got an assignment. The expectations are pretty high."

Opponents, including local police and fire unions, argued a recession was not the time to extend a sales tax and said the city should focus instead on public safety concerns. Cornett has said use tax money related to MAPS 3 could be used for public safety purposes.

"Obviously we're disappointed in the loss," said Phil Sipe, the president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 157. "We hope that in spite of that, we can still move forward with the city to address the needs of public safety in the community. The city has made strong promises to address those needs as the campaign progressed and we will hold their feet to the fire."

Opposition also came from a coalition of conservative, constitutional and citizen groups that support limited government.

"I think that time will show that this particular MAPS tax is really going to be destructive for the citizens of Oklahoma City," said former state Rep. Porter Davis, a spokesman for a coalition known as KillTheMapsTax.com. "This is the wrong time to put a new tax on people who are suffering job losses and struggling to get by."

Bobby Johnson, a 57-year-old retiree, said he supported the proposal because city officials had "done a great job so far with the MAPS."

"You're talking about adding on to something we're doing already," Johnson said. "We just need to go ahead and keep the momentum going."

Earnest Bush said he voted against MAPS 3 because he thought it would benefit only a few people.

"I didn't see this particular MAPS legislation as being as universally beneficial as it should," said Bush, a 63-year-old systems programmer who also said he didn't like the idea of extending a tax in the midst of a struggling national economy.

Oklahoma City leaders pushed for the first MAPS plan in 1993 as the malaise from the oil bust a decade earlier persisted. Approved by 53 percent of voters, it paid for construction of a new arena in which the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder now plays, a baseball stadium and a canal that helped convert an aging warehouse district into an entertainment destination known as Bricktown.

"It's amazing to me what the city has done in the last 15 years and it's best to keep it going," said 34-year-old landscape designer Leigh Love, who voted for MAPS 3.

The success of the first MAPS proposal and MAPS for Kids, approved in 2001 to improve local schools, led city leaders to forge ahead with MAPS 3, which also will be funded by a one-cent sales tax lasting for almost eight years. The tax will begin April 1, when a similar tax that paid for downtown arena improvements and a practice facility for the Thunder expires.

Dawn Shelton, a stay-at-home mom who lives near downtown, said the convention center component of MAPS 3 is important "because a nice new facility will draw big-time national conventions."

"It's not something a typical resident thinks about, but convention business is a big deal," said Shelton, 41. "It's a way to get people to our city, and with all the improvements we've done, they say, 'Wow, I will come back here with my family.'"