What’s the difference between running the city of Dallas like a business, or the city of Dallas running a business? Check out this story in the DMN: A labor group that apparently isn’t getting a commitment from the city to unionize workers at the proposed downtown convention center hotel now is threatening to launch a petition drive to limit the city’s ability to subsidize private development.

Dallas Right to Vote is the group (the News describes it as comprised of New York City-based labor union members), and its leaders claim to be in the process of gathering the 20,000 registered Dallas voter signatures needed to put the initiative on the November ballot. It appears the group’s plan is to allow a public vote on any city subsidy exceeding $1 million, rather than allowing the city council to dole out the money, as is the current situation.
Over the years, the council has subsidized a number of projects with cash, TIFs and PIDs, and many have been beneficial to city growth; a $1 million subsidy is on the low end of the real "impact" deals. The projects typically involve lots of negotiations, an ability to step-back and see the big picture, and the ability to give the council enough authority to act quickly in the event the subsidy involves enticing a major corporate move to Dallas.

And even though letting voters have a say on where tax funds are sprinkled throughout the city sounds like a good idea, it would turn out to be a nightmare for a couple of reasons. One, it appears that it would only take 500 voters to put any $1 million-plus subsidy to a vote, and you can probably find 500 disgruntled citizens in an afternoon anywhere throughout the city. Two, we’ve elected councilmen to make decisions like this for us, and presuming the councilmen are doing their job, we get the opportunity to vote on them every few years rather than every single deal that’s made.

Having said that, though, here’s the real rub: The council brought this issue on itself. By jamming the $550 million taxpayer-funded hotel down our throats — with most councilmen going so far as to say they’re going to approve the deal regardless of what happens with May’s referendum on the project — the council has opened itself up to disgust and second-guessing from some of us, and this initiative appears is geared to take advantage of that frustration. The issue isn’t whether the hotel’s workers are unionized or not (I have no opinion on that); the issue is that a private business should be dealing with this, not the city.

One more thing; If the city owns a business, it naturally inherits the problems of running a business, and labor issues are just the beginning. Sure, the council will argue that it’s hiring a hotel management company to run the place, but we all know how things work — political pressure will be applied to hire this uniform company or spend money with that company for security, and those turned away by the management company will appeal to the city by crying racism, elitism, favoritism and and other "ism" they can think of to get the city to intervene. And these labor guys from New York are just firing the first salvo.

I agree with Mayor Tom Leppert on this initiative — it’s not something the city needs, and it could very well be destructive to our longterm growth and vitality. But Leppert’s actions and "vision" for Dallas created this mess, so it will be interesting to see how he gets out of this one, along with the many others sure to come.

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