How to pull one's own weight in a city on the rise
Tulsa, Okla. — ''Tulsa is a city on the rise,'' says Mayor James M. Inhofe, ''but I want to make it clear that our attitudes on people coming in are very strict. We expect people to carry their own weight.''
Actually, the city itself, like many others across the country, is having to learn to stand more on its own financially in the face of recent federal budget cuts. The cuts are seen as likely to affect the Tulsa's bus system more than its ''human services.'' But these are already strained as the city faces the social costs of its recent economic straits. The number of people on unemployment compensation is up nearly 300 percent this year over last.
Over the past year, press reports that Tulsa was a relative oasis of low unemployment have drawn not only skilled job-seekers but vagrants and derelicts. Moreover, razing or renovation of old buildings downtown has put some local derelicts onto the street.
This is not to suggest that the city is in danger of being ''taken over'' by panhandlers. But it is clearly a concern on people's minds - an issue Mayor Inhofe raised himself at the very beginning of a recent interview.
''Other places put them in jail and feed them. That's not how we do it here.'' The Tulsa approach favors putting alcoholics into private programs like that of the San Antonio-based HOW Foundation, where the men earn their keep doing odd jobs until they are ready to rejoin society. ''Either they work hard or they are run out of town.'' The mayor declined to elaborate on how the second option works, other than to say, ''There's a mechanism.''
A less acute but more broad-ranging question may be how the city learns to pull more of its own weight in funding public transportation.
The cuts in human services aren't really the issue here, at least not this year, since the gaps are being bridged by a state budgetary surplus.
The federal cutbacks are now being felt here mostly by working poor women, say R.Lynn Rittenoure and Steve B. Steib of the University of Tulsa.
But transportation is being seen as a flashpoint issue. Appropriations have been cut back for the Urban Mass Transit Administration, which has been an important source of funding for Tulsa's bus system.
Sitting in his office, decorated with oil field scenes and a large color photograph of Ronald Reagan, Mayor Inhofe expresses confidence that the people of Tulsa will find a way to take up the slack. He cites the voters' approval in 1980 of a special limited 1 percent sales tax to finance capital improvements as an example of their willingness to shoulder burdens responsibly.
He notes that across the country, ''Bus service is 90 percent government subsidized,'' and that rubs the wrong way across his free-enterprise grain.
Raising fares would be one obvious way to bridge the gap, but of course there would be a point at which falloff in ridership would cancel the increase in revenues, he notes.
Earl J. Reeves, a University of Tulsa political scientist, explains that a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have let cities form metropolitan transit districts financed from property taxes was narrowly defeated this year. It had been more roundly defeated earlier.
The commitment of Tulsa's leaders, in government and in business, to the development of the downtown and of close-in areas north and west of downtown means that public transportation - bus service - has a natural ''constituency'' with a lot more clout than one might expect in a relatively young Sunbelt city.