Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Corridor" bond proponents LYING all over town....

"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
But those who deal truthfully are His delight."
Proverbs 12:22

[Author's Note: We tried to include a picture to the map to which the Statesman piece refers, but couldn't make the formatting work; you can view it for yourself by following the link.]

[Author's Note II: All points of emphasis in the linked pieces added.]

OK, that's enough.

Following the debacle of the Uber/Lyft referendum, we took a vow of humility.  We think we've done a pretty good job holding that up, but a vow of humility is not a suicide pact.  And continued reprehensible behavior from those we characterized back in May as "the other group of arrogant jerks" warrants a response.

That's our long-winded introduction to a conclusion that we can no longer avoid (even if it's not surprising): Over the past week, Mayor Adler and the team supporting his so-called "corridor" bond have graduated from half-truths and political spin to bald faced lies.

Example 1: Ben Wear in Monday's Statesman....
The glossy four-page brochure in question arrived in tens of thousands of Austin mailboxes, including mine, about a week ago courtesy of Austin Forward, the political action committee formed to support the city’s $720 million transportation bond program. I’m guessing you’ve heard of the bond and might be thinking of voting yes or no by Nov. 8.

Anyway, given that I have been steeped in all things proposition for many months now, I didn’t bother to actually read the brochure when it arrived. I figured there was nothing in there that would surprise me. It turns out there was: the map.

The map dominates the mailing’s third page (and is on the campaign’s website), below this headline: “The Smart Corridor Plan: Helping ALL of Austin.” That’s their capitalization, not mine.

And the map certainly seems to back that up, with a green lines splayed over 34 roads, all over the map. There’s no legend identifying what the green lines signify, although there is a key with 15 roads listed, tied to numbers on the map.

Manchaca Road is green all the way from South Lamar Boulevard to FM 1626. South Congress is green from Cesar Chavez Street to, again, FM 1626. East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is shown as having work from Interstate 35 well out into unincorporated Travis County. South Pleasant Valley Road is green from Cesar Chavez to Oltorf Street. Guadalupe Street is green from East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to where it meets North Lamar Boulevard. And North Lamar, too, appears to be set for work from somewhere near West 35th Street all the way north to its terminus at Howard Lane.

South Austin, in particular, is a focus, with huge sections of the road network shown in, yes, green.

I was startled, because I hadn’t heard of any construction in the bond proposition for many of those roads. What in the world?
 It gets better:
Here’s the deal: As I explained last week in this space, the $482 million included in the bond for work on eight or nine corridors won’t come close to paying for the actual construction on all of them. The city staff estimates a cost of $1.56 billion to do just seven of them, and William Cannon and Slaughter would inflate that number by some other undetermined, but sizable, amount.

So the green lines — which, again, a reasonable reader could see as showing actual street improvements on all of those places — in fact show an indistinct combination of work that would occur, work that might occur and work that definitely won’t occur under the bond because in those cases it only supplies money for studies. And there’s no way for the uninitiated to know which is which, short of going to the online city brochure. And even then you won’t know which of the seven or eight or nine smart corridors will actually get done.

The bond proposition, if voters say yes, would fund $720 million of work (more than the sum total of approved Austin transportation bonds over the past 20 years), and almost all of that would involve actual moving of dirt and laying of concrete or asphalt (some large part of that would be for sidewalks, bike lanes and trails, not street lanes). The mayor and other supporters argue, based on engineering studies already done on six of the corridors, that the changes would ease traffic on those roads and provide sufficient and safe alternatives for people who use their feet, bikes or a bus.
Example 2: Greg Harrison with Empower Texans....

[Note: There are a lot of numbers in this analysis, but the TL:DR version is that the tax increase is going to be three times what the city claims.]
Repeatedly, the City of Austin and multiple publications have stated that the projected tax impact for Mayor Adler’s $720 million transportation bond would be around $56 per year for an average homeowner, but one local taxpayer says the true cost will be more than double that figure.

Herein lies the confusion: tax impact does not reflect the overall amount the average homeowner will have to shell out to pay for it. In fact, it is an intentional misrepresentation that uses figures based on the assumptions that not only will officials be diligent in executing a shell-game down the road, but that their math within this misleading paradigm is correct.

But according to John Goldstone, a local attorney who regularly investigates bond proposals, the City’s math just doesn’t add up.

“The number [$56] is inaccurate for various reasons,” says Goldstone. “The least of which that the number represents only 2/3 of the bonds ($480 million as per the city’s own documentation) and is misleadingly called a ‘tax impact.’ Officials are relying on the fact that some of the other municipal bonds will be paid off by the time the final $240 million is issued, so your net impact of that final $240 million is $0.00, a blatant lie by confusion.”

In other words, by issuing the debt in phases, they can obfuscate the overall amount taxpayers will have to shell out to cover the entire package. “In layman’s terms,” Goldstone says, “it is as though we have paid off an $800 car payment right when we borrow for an $800 mortgage – so our net ‘impact’ is zero.”

They’re advertising it as though the repayment cost of a $240 million loan is zero,” he says.

But even given that assumption the City’s calculations are still flawed, according to Goldstone.

“With a principal amount of $720 million, repayment terms of 5% (on the conservative side of the city’s own published terms), amortized over 20 years with 2 payments per year comes out to the city paying (at full funding) $57,364,175.76 per year,” Goldstone says.

“As per Greg Canally (Deputy Chief Financial Officer for the City of Austin), the total taxable property that pays property taxes in City of Austin is $115 billion…so to find out what a $100,000 slice of that would owe, we take 100,000 / 115 billion – which gives us our percentage, which we multiply by the yearly payment of the bond as calculated – coming out to $49.90 per $100,000, or $125 per $250,000,” Goldstone explains.

The real number is $125 per year for a $250,000 house.
Read the whole thing here and here.

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