Friday, September 29, 2017

#atxcouncil roundup: the Good, the better than expected, and the Terrible

"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
Galatians 6:9

As promised here's what happened on the big three items yesterday.

 First, item #103 (the good):

[Note: We discussed item #99 yesterday.]

As we said in our testimony, we were shocked when we learned that Austin had this policy on the books.  The "juvenile curfew" was a legacy of 1990's era "tough on crime" hysteria.  The policy allowed police to arrest or fine minors who weren't doing anything wrong except being out on the street at a time of day of which the government didn't approve.  Obviously, we have plenty [Note: actually waaay too many] of criminal statues already on the books to deal with any actual criminal activity.  Council correctly repealed this policy and we applaud them for so doing.

Second, item #52 (the better than expected):
Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to explore funding options such as public improvement districts, tax increment financing, public-private partnerships, and increases in hotel occupancy taxes to fund improvements to downtown Austin, to address homelessness in downtown Austin, to support the local music industry, and to fund park, civic, and historic facilities and districts including expansion of the Convention Center.

This is Mayor Adler's so-called "downtown puzzle" we first discussed last month.  As introduced, it was a needlessly complicated real estate scheme allegedly designed to 'solve' a number of alleged 'problems' related to downtown (including expanding the convention center).  We have a number of issues with the proposal, but as we stated in our testimony our biggest concerns are with the nature of the tax increases and complicated corporate welfare mechanisms being used to finance large components.

The good news is that they didn't take any action, but instead returned the question to staff.  To be honest, we left City Hall to watch the football game for several hours during dias discussion. [Note: Mayor Adler in response to a request from this author, put the game on in a side room at City Hall.  We didn't see it and thus watched it off-site.  But we want to mention that Mayor Adler kept his word and we thank him for doing so.]  The Austin Monitor has a good roundup of everything we missed here.

That being said, what happened last night was at least a step in the right direction as far as process.  Instead of trying to force something through that clearly wasn't ready for prime time (a la last year's transportation bond), returning the issue to staff at least gives them a chance to come back with a much more workable proposal.  In what's becoming an oddly recurring experience, we once again found ourselves in total agreement with several points Kathie Tovo made related to this subject.

Finally, unfortunately, item #55 (the Terrible):
Approve a resolution directing the City Manager to convene a stakeholder process to gain feedback on elements of a paid sick days policy for private employers in Austin.

This is the "paid sick leave" mandate we discussed three weeks ago.  Obviously, it passed.  The good news is that this is just the beginning of the process, so there are still opportunities to stop it.

But there needs to be a backlash, we can't do this one alone.

Finally, while we forgot to mention this during our testimony, it's highly dubious whether or not the City of Austin has this authority in the first place under state law; we need to get an attorney general opinion on this topic.

Bottom Line: One good thing got done, and neither of the bad things is a done deal at this point.

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