Angela Hunt: Why won’t the city fix the potholes?

There’s no reason to delay the inevitable, but big donors think otherwise

I don’t know what to make of this.

For the last two years, the Dallas City Council has been developing a bond program to present to voters in 2017, primarily to fix our crumbling streets. The bond election was set to coincide with the biannual city council elections this May, but suddenly, the mayor and several other councilmembers are fighting tooth and nail to kill the bond vote this spring. They want to move it to November, for some vague reason, and I am flummoxed.

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Like most cities, Dallas borrows money at low interest rates to pay for major infrastructure improvements. That’s how we get our streets rebuilt, along with major fixes to our parks, libraries and police stations. We generally have bond elections every three-to-six years, and spend the in-between times undertaking the major maintenance.

It’s been five years since our last bond program. The council has been in general agreement that we need a bond program now to address our aging infrastructure, but strangely, the mayor has led the charge against a bond vote in May.

Why? Well, the primary reason, according to the mayor, is that the rich folks who typically open their pocket books and write checks to promote the bond just aren’t inclined to open their pocket books and write checks right now. I’m not clear on why. Maybe the stuff on this bond program isn’t exciting enough — not enough pomp and circumstance, fancy bridges and horse parks.

If that’s the case, that means the mayor is hunting for something fancy to attach to the bond in November. Something that he can get his well-heeled friends excited about. (I fear it’s something related to the Trinity Toll Road, but I think that about most things.)

Having been actively involved in the last three city bond programs, I can tell you: The marketing campaigns that rich people have historically paid for, I’m not convinced they’re necessary. Their checks hire consultants to come up with slick brochures and colorful yard signs to convince voters to support the bond. I think one year we even had a song.

But this upcoming bond program isn’t a tough sell, not at all. Like Councilmember Philip Kingston said, this bond sells itself: Do you want your streets fixed? We don’t need a crafty jingle or snazzy logo to convince Dallasites to vote to fix the damned potholes.

But then Councilmember Jennifer Staubach Gates chimed in that she, too, didn’t care for the proposed bond program because too many of the projects included were not just about fixing streets. Some were about fixing parks and repairing police stations.

To this, Councilmember Scott Griggs reminded her that the city council gets to decide what projects make it onto the bond, and if they want more streets and less of everything else, then the council can simply make it so.

Councilmember Lee Kleinman also voiced his opposition to a May bond vote, grumbling something about borrowing money always being bad. So I guess the residents of District 11 can take comfort in the fact that their streets are in perfect condition (at least according to their council member).

The mayor also blamed the police/fire pension fund crisis as a reason to delay the bond vote, but I don’t buy that either. The pension problem won’t be fixed by November, and it’s already resulted in a lowering of the city’s credit rating several times over the last year, making debt more expensive. Waiting will just increase the cost to the city.

Pushing the bond vote to November makes me itchy and suspicious. So let’s keep it on the May ballot. The council can make the bond program a little bit smaller — more focused on the meat and potatoes to improve our streets, parks, and city facilities.

And if they mayor’s worried about a catchy jingle, here’s one for free:

If you’re tired of potholes,

But hate big toll roads,

Don’t delay!

Vote for the bond in May

Done and done.


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