Thursday, August 18, 2016

Adler's bond gets worse; votes melt away....

“For My people are foolish,
They have not known Me.
They are silly children,
And they have no understanding.
They are wise to do evil,
But to do good they have no knowledge.”
Jeremiah 4:22

It's a shame it had to work this way, but we suppose it isn't a surprise:

Divided Austin City Council puts $720 million bond on November ballot

Austin voters, who already had some weighty decisions to make Nov. 8, will now have a $720 million question to answer as well.

An unexpectedly divided Austin City Council gave final approval Thursday to Mayor Steve Adler’s “go big” transportation bond proposition, a mixture of improvements to major city arterial streets; bikeway, sidewalk, trail and transit expansions citywide; and suburban highway projects. What had been an 11-0 preliminary vote a week ago fell to 7-1-3 Thursday, with some council members raising concerns about the ballot language, tax impact and even the rushed process that led to the huge bond proposition.

“I am dismayed that a $720 million bond that is on the November ballot is a product of the way things have always been done,” said Council Member Ora Houston, who represents District 1 in East Austin, explaining her “no” vote. “I feel like I’ve been bullied.”

Council Members Delia Garza, Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman, for various reasons, abstained.

If Austin voters OK the all-or-nothing package, which is five times larger than any transportation bond ever approved in the city, the city property tax by about 2020 would increase by around $56 a year on a $250,000 home.

The council, in giving third-reading approval to an ordinance calling the bond election, also agreed on the specific and lengthy ballot language. Voters will see a single sentence, about 150 words long, that names nine major roads that would be reworked to include alternative transportation modes. The ballot will also name highways that would be expanded and city streets designated for repairs.

That language, however, will not include a specific estimate of what the property tax effect will be for an average home owner. The council last week, on a preliminary 6-5 vote, had said it wanted such wording.

But after an executive session Thursday morning, the council emerged and voted 7-4 against including that provision on the ballot, doing so on the advice of the city attorney. Zimmerman, Troxclair, Garza and Houston were in the minority on that vote.

Assistant City Attorney Leela Fireside in last week’s open session had told the council that if the tax impact of the bond borrowing over time approached what appears on the ballot, that could limit spending under the bond to some amount lower than $720 million. She recommended against including such language.

That advice continued in Thursday’s closed session, an incensed Zimmerman said. He left the backstage meeting early.

“It’s not legal advice, it’s lobbying,” Zimmerman said. “There’s a difference. I’m sick of it. They want to give the city the unlimited power to tax.”
Read the whole thing here.

The real shame here is that some components of this package have merit.  But they've been shoved into an enormous, complicated amalgamation.  And if you have any faith in the city of Austin's ability to execute this in anything remotely resembling a competent or timely manner, we have mineral rights in South Texas we'd love to sell you.

If Adler were serious about addressing mobility, he could have done two things over the summer:
  • Break the bundled proposal into its component parts, giving voters several smaller/ simpler propositions from which to choose.
  • Delivering a credible and detailed plan for how the city would execute this plan if the voters say yes.
Unfortunately, Adler did neither of these things.

[Sidenote: Before anyone asks, that was the exact message we delivered council (twice) back in June.]

And that's before we review the actual ballot language; if that's not legally binding, that's a whole separate can of worms.

Kudos to Zimmerman, Troxclair, Houston, and Garza for not walking this plank; it doesn't take a genius to see a coalition.

Bottom Line: Bond packages are usually unanimous.  For Adler to lose four votes on the dais is pathetic.  Then again, considering the aloof presumption with which Adler has conducted himself throughout this process, it isn't surprising.

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