Supporters promote sales tax extension

MAPS 4 supporters promote sales tax extension

MAPS 4 supporters use proven strategies and new ones to promote sales tax extension

The campaign to sell MAPS 4 in Oklahoma City has kicked off with a trusted brand and a coalition of public officials and organizations who have embraced some aspect of the $1 billion package.

Organizers have reached into the various communities that stand to benefit from the 16 projects, building support ahead of the Dec. 10 vote to extend the penny sales tax that has been in place for over 25 years.

“We’re trying to make it a community project and a community campaign,” said Sharon Caldwell, a partner at the Oklahoma City consulting firm CMA Strategies, which has been involved in previous MAPS campaigns.

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The campaign, being funded by private donors and unions, is expected to include media advertising, direct mail and door knocking.

“We will run a robust campaign,” said Evan Handy, campaign manager for MAPS 4. “We will reach out to everyone.”

Relatively few people turn out for municipal elections so the biggest challenge may be creating buzz for projects that were part of previous MAPS — like sports facilities, parks and senior centers — and explaining new ones meant to address chronic poverty and mental health. People are under the impression that MAPS initiatives win easily, Handy said, but the first and most recent ones got about 54%.

“Contentment and apathy are things we need to overcome,’’ Handy said. “That’s what we’re working to do — energize our base of supporters and make sure they get out to the polls on December 10th.”

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, which has spearheaded previous efforts, is heavily involved in the funding of the MAPS 4 campaign. Under a 2014 law approved by the state Legislature, donations and expenditures to the campaign don’t have to be disclosed.

The MAPS 3 campaign spent more than $2 million in 2009, when 54% of voters approved the sales tax extension to build a convention center, Scissortail Park and the streetcar line, among other projects. The 2001 MAPS for kids campaign spent nearly $600,000 on advertising.

Caldwell declined to discuss budget numbers but said campaign spending will depend in part on whether organized opposition emerges.

That hasn’t happened. And the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by former Oklahoma City councilman Ed Shadid claiming the proposal violated the state constitution by placing multiple projects in a single ballot question.

The first MAPS ballot initiative, in 1993, included a list of the projects that would be funded by the dedicated penny sales tax. In December, the ballot question will be limited to the question of extending the tax. The projects and their respective costs have been approved by the council in a “resolution of intent.”

Former Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick, who came up with the idea of MAPS nearly 30 years ago, said the first package — which included the Bricktown ballpark and canal, the downtown library, the sports arena, river construction and improvements to the Civic Center and convention center — was a tough sell.

“The only two projects back then that polled anywhere close to 50% were the river and the library,” he said.

“Everything else was way under water; I’m talking 20 or 30 percent of people (in support). I believed that if the proposals were put on the ballot one at a time, most of them would fail, if not all of them. And even if half of them passed, or some number, what’s the combination that works?”

In the campaign back then, Norick sought to convince people to look at the big picture, saying in speeches, “It’s got to be approved as a whole. It’s the only way.”

Oklahoma City pollster Pat McFerron, who has been involved with all four MAPS initiatives and numerous other bond issues and sales tax proposals, said lack of support for some of the first projects reflected inexperience.

“The arena, the ballpark, renovations to the Cox Center, the Civic Center — none of those had a coalition of majority support.

“People hadn’t used them. The feeling about MAPS changed after that ballpark opened.”

No recent polling has been done for the new initiative. And though MAPS 4 has no organized opposition, “there’s always an anti-tax, limited government perspective that tends to vote very regularly,” McFerron said.

That viewpoint tends to come from older people. At least 40% of the people voting in previous MAPS elections have been 65 or older, McFerron said.

“One of our goals is to get that number down, get more younger voters,” he said.

During the 1993 campaign for the first MAPS, Norick asked older voters to consider young people.

“I said: ‘Think about your kids and grandkids. You want them working in Dallas or Kansas City or St. Louis? Wouldn’t you like to have them working in Oklahoma City?’”

What will you pay?

The Oklahoman’s MAPS 4 cost calculator can help you estimate how much of your sales tax would be allocated to MAPS 4 if the project is approved. Enter in an estimated monthly amount spent on items subject to sales tax — things like groceries, clothes, home supplies, decorations or other tangible products — to see how much MAPS 4 could cost you over the next 8 years.

Monthly Expenditures: $

Monthly cost: $

Annual cost: $

8-year cost: $

Your percent of total cost: %

Selling the vision

A quarter-century later, city officials are still using the strategy Norick employed to get the first MAPS passed — selling a vision and not just individual projects. In his lawsuit, Shadid likened it to legislative logrolling, whereby spending bills are packed with enough pork barrel projects to attract a majority of votes.

“The city is saying to battered women, that they may receive the help they desperately need, but only if they vote for a soccer stadium,” Shadid told the Supreme Court.

Despite reservations from some council members, the list of projects was approved unanimously by the council in August.

One of the new council members, JoBeth Hamon, expressed concern on her Twitter account that the money allocated for “human & neighborhood needs” would just scratch the surface of the demand.

“In my time working in social services, I’ve learned the mantra & hold true to the idea that we ‘can’t sacrifice the good for the perfect,’” she wrote on Twitter.

“However, I’m not sure that advocates don’t sometimes use that phrase to start out compromising rather than making the big, bold asks we need.”

Hamon sought unsuccessfully to shift $10 million from a job creation project to an affordable housing initiative.

Hamon did not respond to requests for comment on what her role might be in the MAPS 4 campaign. Other council members have held or are planning public meetings to answer questions about MAPS 4.

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Though MAPS for Kids invested in schools throughout the city, the first and third MAPS focused heavily on downtown and the core area. MAPS 4 is being pitched as one that invests more in neighborhoods that have seen a lesser share in the past from the dedicated penny of sales tax revenue.
The MAPS 4 campaign has built a coalition base that includes police and firefighter unions, business groups throughout the city, the Homeless Alliance, the NAACP, homebuilders and Realtors and others.
“This is certainly a MAPS for everyone,” Handy said. “I think the best thing I can point to as an indicator of that being true is the broad coalition that we’ve built. We have 63 endorsers and coalition partners and these people really cross geographic lines, ideological lines, regionally, socially — all of that.”
Norick, who is helping raise money for the initiative, said, “It’s a different type of MAPS, which is fine. Times have changed.”