The title of this column refers to the highly-touted Dallas Plan, which was released last October. The price tag for full implementation of the Plan’s proposals is estimated at $6.6 billion.
Oh, is that all?
The Plan is very ambitious, financially and otherwise, and is presented in a very impressive, well-organized booklet. But you can’t judge a book by its cover, and the same is true for this book.
The City Council held town hall meetings to discuss the Plan and receive feedback from the public. I attended the meeting hosted by Glenn Box and Donna Halstead. I must admit I was impressed at the turnout at Lake Highlands High School Dec. 8. And I thought the format for breaking into discussion groups and writing down preferences on note cards was a bit unwieldy and ultimately unnecessary, given what I observed.
The City staff presented an extensive laundry list of proposed projects and programs from which we were asked to identify our preferences. The ultimate purpose of this exercise was to provide City officials with a sense of the priorities of the citizenry, so the City can then decide what to include in the May bond election. The bond election is the first step, if you will, towards realizing the goals described in the Plan.
At the end of the initial presentation, we were broken into discussion groups of about 10 people. After listening to conversations throughout the evening and observing the prioritization decided upon by several discussion groups, the message was abundantly clear.
Out of all of the proposed programs on which bond money could be spent, Lake Highlanders prefer two: dredge White Rock Lake and repair City streets. Both are long overdue (the current backlog on street repairs is already $886 million), and both are considered fundamental responsibilities of City government.
I fear that City officials did not hear what, to everyone else, was a clear message. After all, spending money on only those two projects is too boring and too basic to satisfy a bureaucrat’s hunger for spending money.
But the Plan does satisfy the hunger. It is full of catchy, feel-good phrases like the “greening of Dallas,” consisting of an “emerald necklace of parks, hike-and-bike trails, and lakes”; “forming a shared vision”; “creating the capacity for change”; “enhancing the quality of life”; “strengthening City-wide linkages”; “forging new partnerships”; and “creating a coordinated framework for action.”
The more of those phrases you see, the more skeptical you ought to be about what is being proposed.
But there is more to the Plan than just fluffy phrases and a price tag that only Washington could love. And it does not get any better.
For starters, the Plan states unequivocally that one of Dallas’ amenities is that it is “easy to get around, even for the uninitiated. Although comprised (sic) of 380 square miles, travel from the northernmost tip of the city to the southernmost areas takes less than 40 minutes.”
Does this sound like a transportation crisis worth taking $260 million every year out of the taxpayer’s pocket? Even having made the admission that Dallas is “easy to get around,” the Plan unabashedly embraces DART, light rail, and the whole mass transit plan.
One of the principles that defines the Dallas Plan is “using a new investment approach.” The Plan dismisses the ability of “market forces” to determine economic growth in Dallas and calls for the City to seek funding from government sources – i.e., become more dependent on the public sector, which is, of course, the taxpayer. The Plan literally lathers at the prospect of an estimated $22 billion to be spent by the public sector in Dallas over the next 30 years.
Instead of discussing how to remove the economically detrimental restrictions on air traffic at Love Field, the only reference to Love Field in the Plan is how to improve the appearance in and around Love Field.
And while Love Field gets a bigger budget for tulips, the Plan contemplates building a brand new airport in southern Dallas.
Most of you will not read the Dallas Plan. All of you will pay for it if it is enacted. If you feel your checkbooks tingling, order a free copy of the Dallas Plan by calling 670-4908.
It’s only money – only $6.6 billion of it.