Vol. 3, Issue #4 February 22nd - March 6th, 2008

The Faulking Truth

Maps for Millionaires
or "Daddy, buy me an arena"

By: Mark Faulk
© 2008 Mark Faulk. All rights reserved.

Why is Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett lying to his own constituents? When Cornett introduced the sales tax initiative dubbed by opponents “MAPS for Millionaires” in December of 2007, he said, “This is a choice. We can choose to be an NBA city, or we can choose not to be. We’re not going to get a franchise if we don’t pass it.”

The “If we build it, they will come” mantra has served Cornett well over the past two months as he has campaigned tirelessly to spend over $120 million dollars of taxpayers’ money to fund improvements to the five-year old Ford Center, which was apparently good enough to host the NBA’s Hornets only two years ago, but isn’t good enough for to bring the Seattle Sonics here. When he shoved the same proposal down the throats of the Oklahoma City Council less than two weeks later, he responded to a question about whether those improvements could instead become a part of the proposed MAPS 3 project (that would include improvements to public transportation and roads) by saying “we don’t have a Plan B”.

Cornett is lying through his teeth. The Seattle team was destined for Oklahoma City from the start, according to co-owner Aubrey McClendon. He told the Oklahoma City Journal Record in August of 2007 that they had purchased the Sonics for the express purpose of relocating the team to Oklahoma City, and was even fined $250,000 by the NBA for his comments. Just last week, Bennett and his cronies sent a letter to the city of Seattle offering to buy out the team’s lease agreement for just over $26 million so they could be moved to Oklahoma City. And before the NBA All-Star Game last Saturday, league commissioner David Stern called the team’s relocation from Seattle to Oklahoma City “inevitable”.

Over the next few weeks, the Gaylord-controlled media will attempt to shove this sales tax down the throats of voters just like Cornett did to the city council. They will misrepresent the facts and twist the truth…just like Cornett has for the past two months. They will tell you that without reaching into your own pockets and subsidizing the improvements the Sonics won’t move here. They will tell you the almost-new arena that only four years ago was touted as world-class is suddenly woefully inadequate.

What they won’t tell you is that Clay Bennett is the son-in-law of media magnate Edward Gaylord, who has turned the Oklahoman into an ongoing ad for subsidizing his son-in-law’s latest endeavor. Bennett heads a group called Professional Basketball Group LLC, which includes Aubrey K. McClendon, Chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corporation; G. Jeffrey Records, Chairman of the Board and CEO of MidFirst Bank; Tom L. Ward, Chairman and CEO of Riata Energy, Inc.; and G. Edward Evans, Chairman of Syniverse Holding, Inc.

McClendon was number 220 on Forbes’ “400 Richest Americans” list in 2007, and is worth a staggering $2.1 billion dollars. With a 20% ownership of the Seattle Sonics in hand, McClendon could cut a check for the entire $120 million plus dollars and not even feel the sting.

MAPS for Millionaires opponent and former state legislator Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton points out that after Chesapeake Energy contributed over $570 thousand to state legislators’ campaigns over a five-year period, the state legislature responded by giving the oil and gas industry over $180 million in tax refunds. Since Chesapeake will be the major beneficiary of the legislature’s generosity with taxpayers’ money, Stapleton asks “Couldn’t Chesapeake spend this income tax windfall to pay for upgrading the Ford Center - thus enabling McClendon and other team owners to benefit by bringing the Sonics to Oklahoma City? That selfless act would also save the embarrassment of millionaires and billionaires asking folks like me for more sales taxes.”

Experts say the $350 million price the new owners paid was way too high, and that it will be difficult for them to turn a profit in a midsized market such as Oklahoma City. The proposed sales tax will give the team a free $20 million practice facility and build luxury suites in the arena so the ultrarich owners can look down on the poor suckers who paid the tab.

Cornett, Bennett, McClendon and their cronies might try to make it sound like pennies, but the citizens of Oklahoma City will pay an estimated $240 each over the fifteen months the sales tax will be in effect. A family of five will pay $1,200 out of their own pockets to bail out the richest billionaires in Oklahoma so they can turn a profit on a crappy business deal.

I have a better idea. Why not extend the penny sales tax another fifteen months and continue working to improve our city school buildings, many of which are close to a hundred years old? Or spend it on the public transit system that Oklahoma City residents overwhelming supported when asked what projects they wanted funded by sales tax after the end of MAPS for Kids. Hell, just let the residents keep their money for a change, and let the poor billionaires fend for themselves.

This tax is nothing more than a scam. If we pass the sales tax on March 4, there is no more guarantee the Sonics will relocate here than if we vote it down… and if you believe the owners and the NBA commissioner, it’s a done deal anyway. Mayor Cornett, the Gaylord family, McClendon and the rest of the Richie Rich Clan, LLC should be ashamed of themselves for even asking taxpayers to fund unneeded improvements that will only serve to benefit a handful of greedy billionaires.

And that, once again, is the Faulking Truth.

For more information on this issue and upcoming events opposing the proposed sales tax, go to: www.mapsformillionaires.org

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