In the past week or so Austin saw the formation of organized opposition to Proposition 1– the $90 million City of Austin mobility bond package. This is notable because of who these lead opponents are and what their opposition is really indicative of.
- Mike Levy, former publisher of Texas Monthly, now local rabble rouser.
- West Austin Downtown Alliance, which apparently has no member businesses.
- Austinites for Downtown Mobility, group opposed to Nueces Bike Boulevard.
- Austinites for Action, led by Carole Keeton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn.
- Jim Skaggs, Austin's goto rail and public transit opponent.
- Don Zimmerman, GOP oddball who burns flags and aired creepy ads.
- Ed Wendler, self organized spokesman with a misleading powerpoint presentation.
- Real Estate Council of Austin, not officially, but they are certainly not for it.
These groups and people have generally flimsy arguments against Prop 1. They are the following.
1) “The bond package should be split up and voted on separately.”
While philosophically legitimate, this argument is being advanced for strategic reasons, not philosophical ones. For starters, most municipal bonding is voted on as collective all-in-one packages. The reasons for this are varied, but generally are due to the cohesion & interconnection of component bond projects and consideration of lack of voter interest and confusion from long ballots. Federal and local governments do not vote on budgets item by item. Taxpayers do not pay taxes on a program by program basis. One can certainly argue about the merits of this but the reason why this is not done is because of the real reason that this argument is used- longer ballots decrease already low voter interest and allow for the opposition to more easily kill specific component projects they don't like.
These opponents are focused on one thing when it comes to transit in Austin- more roads. They'd like to see propositions like this split up so they can vote against everything except roads. Road-only transit planning is why Austin is in the transit snarl it is today. These people have a knee-jerk hate for rail, for public transit, and special blend of hatred for cyclists. The fact that 43% of the 2010 bond package is for pedestrian, bicycle, trails, and alternative mobility projects drives these people crazy. They know that voters' natural behavior in elections is to only vote for the projects that affect them; as such, most projects would fail outside of high usage highway improvements. Unfortunately, that's not how to solve Austin's traffic problem- it's responsible for it.
2) “It's not transparent. It's vague. It's hiding.”
That quote is from Mike Levy. This is a lie. This argument could be made of some of Austin's ballot referendums and bond campaigns over the past decade, but not this time. Both the proponent committee Get Austin Moving, the city, and even the Mayor have gone out of their way to publicize the individual components of the package. In fact, the transparent, proactive voter education by the city about the basic facts of the measure has been so great that it generated criticism and pushback… from Mike Levy.
To find out all of the secret projects that Proposition 1 is hiding, please review the detailed Prop 1 project descriptions here or here. I'm sure they will come as a shock to the Citizens Task Force and citizens that took part in public input earlier this year.
3) It “ignores many needed street repairs and sidewalks” in East Austin.
Has anyone looked at the map of Prop 1 projects to see where they are located? I'll tell you. East side project goals consists of 34% of this bond proposal. More facts can be found on this specifically created Prop 1 East Side Fact Sheet. 20 lane miles of East Austin roads were repaved with federal stimulas dollars in the last year. East 7th Street reconstruction is such a big project that local businesses are talking about it. In FY2010, 29% of the Austin's Street Maintenance & Repair funds were for the East Side, as well as 32% of its neighborhood connectivity projects. The East Side has $242 million dollars in capital project spending planned for the next 3 years- nearly 2.5 times the total cost of all projects proposed under Proposition 1.
Yes, East Austin has historically been ignored and we are playing catchup now for past mistakes. We should keep a vigilant eye to make sure the “planned projects” are followed through with. We should not let West Side developers 'use' East Side residents in an attempt to defeat a measure that actually has a lot spending east of I-35.
4) “Wrong priority, wrong time” -opposition yard signs
Issuing bonds at cheaper interest rates during a time when capital construction and material costs are at record lows is doing the right thing at the right time. It's not often that we get to take advantage of a major economic recession like this. In fact, Austin lost out on federal funds in the past 2 years because many of its transit projects were not 'shovel ready'. It's possible that another round of federal spending could be approved in the next two years, especially for transportation; many of the studies included in Prop 1 could prepare more forward thinking projects for shovel ready funding, including major road capacity improvements. Additionally, Prop 1 does not raise taxes- a conservative argument always touted during economic and budgetary downturns. City officials even scaled down the size of this year's package to make sure of that- one reason why it doesn't contain many massive road re-construction projects which can run hundreds of millions of dollars each. Even without those, Prop 1 will create over 200 local jobs; isn't it the right time to be advance that priority?
Opponents to Prop 1 don't have great arguments. It's really hard to fight over a bond package that is as small as this. Yes, small, because in comparison we'll likely be voting on up to $2 billion in bonding two years from now in November of 2012. This is a skirmish, an appetizer, to the real battle for these folks. That's when the real bile will come out from the anti-rail, anti-bike, anti-tax elements of Austin. Some of the groups lists above will lead that charge and unfortunately they will have more allies, more money, and more organization in two years.
I believe in a different future for Austin than they do. As a Democrat, I firmly believe in the ability of government to help citizens address problems that affect all of us. Proposition 1, The Austin Mobility Bond, is a prime example of how we can put that principal into practice. It's a proof of concept and it should be passed.
Until then, we'll have to settle for political arguments that aren't that far off from the following.