Commissioner Perry Comments On His Vision2 Vote

Tulsa County Commissioner

UPDATED FACILITY: Wayne Thomas, director of engine maintenance with American Airlines, speaks about the various engines that are built at the Tulsa Industrial Airport Complex. Vision2 funds would allow American Airlines to update its facilities in order to house updated planes that will be coming to the facility in the near future. “If we do not receive the money proposed in Vision2, we will have to make some big decisions as to what updates to make to our facility,” Thomas says.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

As a Tulsa County Commissioner, I thought long and hard before voting to put Vision2 on the Nov. 6 ballot. I would not have done so if I didn’t honestly believe that it had great potential to save thousands of jobs and attract additional jobs. The annual payroll at the airport industrial complex is $755 million ($585 American Airlines (AA) and $170 Spirit AeroSystems and IC Bus). No company would be “bailed out” and no cash would be given to American Airlines or any of the other tenants at the airport industrial complex if Vision2 passes.

The airport industrial properties, comprised of dozens of buildings and hangars, are publicly owned by the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Airport Authority (in other words, the taxpayers). The fact is, while no one can guarantee that the American Airlines jobs will stay, I think it is a sure thing they will leave if we, as their landlord, don’t make the proposed improvements. With many of the hangars as they are, and with the size of new generation aircraft, AA can’t work on a meaningful number of the new airplanes. This is because the hangars that were built in days didn’t have the open span engineering of later years.

The electrical, , plumbing, roofing, tarmac, environmental, ramps, lighting and other systems are in bad shape in much of the airport industrial complex. I’ve been out there, taken tours and talked to the top executives, managers and employees at the facilities. I have read the consultants’ reports, which validate the needs. I became convinced that if we don’t make these improvements, the jobs will go elsewhere.

Everyone knows that AA has filed for bankruptcy. There is a strong belief by some that it will merge with another airline or otherwise survive. If Vision2 passes and the improvements are made but the jobs still leave for some reason, the buildings and grounds will be in far better shape, making it easier to attract another large employer. However, many are optimistic that AA won’t leave and might even be primed to accept more maintenance work from other companies–the potential for more jobs, if these improvements are made.

The Spirit AeroSystems and IC Bus jobs at the complex are also important. These tenants are frequently courted by other cities. The needs are also great in the buildings they occupy. Again, as landlord, we need to do the necessary renovations and repairs. With the exception of some improvements made in Vision 2025 to make the AA buildings relevant, there has been very little investment made in our citizen-owned facilities. Doing the necessary repair work is the responsible thing to do.

The job creation program within Proposition 1 (sometimes called the “closing fund”) is desirable in helping to win jobs in competition with other cities that have such programs. The criteria and guarantees will be strict. The money would be spent on hard assets such as land, utilities and buildings to be owned by the taxpayers, not cash incentives. The decisions regarding these funds will be made by a group made up of the three county commissioners, the Mayor of Tulsa and three other mayors from communities in Tulsa County on a rotating basis—in other words, people you can hold accountable to make good decisions on how those funds will be used to draw in high-quality, well-paying jobs.

I felt compelled to let the voters decide such a major issue involving thousands of jobs. Let’s correct these problems soon so the tenants will be able to do their work and not consider going elsewhere.

Why the urgency? Why not wait until January 2017 when the first Vision 2025 tax has run its 13 year time period? The answer is that the decision on moving the aerospace jobs could be made within the next year or two. If passed, the future revenue from the Vision2 sales tax will allow the sale of bonds so that airport complex improvements can begin in 2013. Major repairs and renovations like this take time to go through the bidding process and for the work to be done. There are other cities and foreign countries competing for these jobs.

I didn’t think a three-person board should make the decision to allow thousands of jobs to go elsewhere without a vote of the people. Also, I believe that the voters deserve a vote on public safety and infrastructure issues, such as the levee repairs and a new juvenile justice center, which will be contained in Proposition 2. Various projects by the communities within Tulsa County will also be connected with Proposition 2, sometimes referred to as “quality of life” projects. Like the county projects, many of these projects will involve needed infrastructure, such as streets, bridges and public safety projects. The voters can decide on Nov. 6.

Updated 10-04-2012

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