OKLAHOMA City residents will vote Tuesday on a plan that, if approved, would upgrade the Ford Center and give the city a chance to land an NBA franchise. It's a proposal we've supported since the mayor first announced the plan back in December, because we see it as an excellent way to continue the momentum that's been building here for more than a decade. The question before voters is whether to use revenue from a 1-cent sales tax to overhaul the Ford Center and, if an NBA team is placed here, to also build a practice facility. Not everyone feels as we do — that this plan figures to be a real winner for the city — and have used any number of arguments to make their case. We thought we'd review some of those and offer rebuttal. •This is a tax increase. Wrong. It would be an extension of a tax we're already paying to finance MAPS for Kids initiatives. This tax would begin Jan. 1, the day after the MAPS for Kids tax expires. •Why not finance improvements with a bond issue, rather than a sales tax? Bond issues incur debt. The sales tax plan, like the sales taxes that funded MAPS and the bulk of MAPS for Kids, allows for a pay-as-you-go strategy with no debt. •Only a small percentage of those who pay the tax will ever use the Ford Center or attend an NBA game. The same argument could have been applied to the original MAPS vote. Not everyone goes to the Bricktown Ballpark, walks along the canal, bikes along the Oklahoma River, visits the downtown library or attends trade shows at Cox Center. All these projects were made possible by the MAPS sales tax. Many, if not most, of the people who pay the existing tax don't have children in a public school built by MAPS for Kids money. Yet the MAPS projects and the new schools have spurred private investment and dramatically increased the quality of life. •Let those who attend NBA games pay for the arena improvements. Hundreds of thousands of people attend all kinds of events at the Ford Center every year. And again, should only those who walk along the canal or bike along the river have paid for those improvements? Should only those who check out books at the downtown library pay for those upgrades? Should only those who drive on May Avenue every day repay bonded indebtedness to maintain that street? •The Ford Center is a luxury. Improving it only six years after it opened is senseless. The city has many greater priorities, such as street repair. The Ford Center was part of the original MAPS proposal and designed in the early 1990s. It was built in a modest fashion to keep costs down. It's now 2008. Kansas City has a sparkling new arena. Tulsa is building a first-class arena. Oklahoma City needs to remain competitive with its own arena as it vies for concerts and major sporting events such as Big 12 and NCAA basketball tournaments. As for street repair, citizens passed a major bond issue three months ago to address infrastructure needs. •The poor are hardest hit by sales taxes. Oklahoma's taxation system, unfortunately, limits cities to the sales tax almost exclusively for revenues. Changing the taxation system is the answer to the problem of overreliance on sales taxes. •The city is big enough. We don't need to be a major league city and have the traffic problems that cities like Dallas and Houston do. If you're not going forward, you're going backward. Standing pat isn't an option. Our city must pursue growth strategies that benefit the entire community through higher earnings. Major league sports franchises attract the people who bring jobs to a city. Those jobs benefit the whole economy. Remodeling the Ford Center won't turn Oklahoma City into Dallas. But it will give us an edge on cities such as Tulsa, Wichita, Little Rock and others. •Why spend $120 million to accommodate a team that will play only 40 or so games each year? Upgrades to the Ford Center wouldn't be solely for the benefit of an NBA team. The arena will be available year-round for events of all kinds, appealing to all groups of people. The offering of things to do in this city since MAPS led to the arena construction is dramatically different than it was before the Ford Center. An upgraded Ford Center could make a similar difference. •The arena is a freebie for an NBA team's owners. Wrong. If an NBA team is placed in Oklahoma City, the team would pay to lease the practice gym and arena office space. •Citizens shouldn't subsidize private business. In an ideal world, that might be true. In a competitive world, it's not practical. We subsidize private business with tax incentives such as the Quality Jobs Program. We seek to lure movie production companies to the state through incentives. We attempt to match subsidies offered by other states in order to reap the benefits of economic expansion. Public participation in projects related to sports franchises is common because citizens recognize the value of these franchises to increase jobs, boost tax revenues and increase the visibility of the city on the world stage. A yes vote Tuesday is a vote for continued progress for Oklahoma City, which has come a long way in a relatively short time. Let's not stop now.
Paul McCartneyFord Center has drawn top performers.