In addition to voting for president, members of Congress and Austin City Council this Nov. 3., local voters will find two propositions at the bottom of their ballot with both addressing mobility issues in the city of Austin.
Proposition A gives voters the chance to approve a permanent 8.75-cent increase to the city's property tax rate to help pay for Project Connect, a proposed $7.1 billion, 15-year overhaul of Austin's transit system, and maintain it. Austin City Council voted unanimously last month to put the issue on the ballot.
The ballot language is below:
Approving the ad valorem tax rate of $0.5335 per $100 valuation in the City of Austin for the current year, a rate that is $0.0875 higher per $100 valuation than the voter-approval tax rate of the City of Austin, for the purpose of providing funds for a citywide traffic-easing rapid transit system known as Project Connect, to address traffic congestion, expand service for essential workers, reduce climate change emissions, decrease traffic fatalities, create jobs, and provide access to schools, health care, jobs and the airport; to include neighborhood supportive affordable housing investments along transit corridors and a fixed rail and bus rapid transit system, including associated road, sidewalk, bike, and street lighting improvements, park and ride hubs, on-demand neighborhood circulator shuttles, and improved access for seniors and persons with disabilities; to be operated by the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, expending its funds to build, operate and maintain the fixed rail and bus rapid transit system; the additional revenue raised by the tax rate is to be dedicated by the City to an independent board to oversee and finance the acquisition, construction, equipping, and operations and maintenance of the rapid transit system by providing funds for loans and grants to develop or expand transportation within the City, and to finance the transit-supportive anti-displacement strategies related to Project Connect. Last year, the ad valorem tax rate in the City of Austin was $0.4431 per $100 valuation.
If this proposition is approved, Project Connect will add two new light rail lines, including one with service to the airport; an underground downtown tunnel; and an expanded bus service. Around 55% of the cost, or $3.85 billion, will come from local taxpayer dollars. Capital Metro, the city's transit agency, says it will ask the federal government to cover the remainder of the costs.
Project Connect massive underground rail tunnel www.youtube.com
The proposed tax rate would increase the median homeowner's city of Austin property tax bill by about 20% and the overall tax bill—which includes payments to other local taxing entities—by 4%. For the median homeowner, that means a $317 increase in his or her tax bill this year.
Assuming the city's property tax rate remains the same and the median home value increases 5% each year for the next 15 years, the Project Connect tax rate increase would lead to an overall increase of $6,840 between now and 2035. Assuming those same constraints, the total tax bill for the median homeowner would amount to $173,670.92 over that same period.
Project Connect is supported by all members of City Council as well as a large coalition of elected representatives at the state level, business leaders and community organizations. You can find a list of supporters on the Transit Now website, which is paid for by the Mobility for All political action committee, which supports the proposition.
Two new organizations—the Our Mobility Our Future PAC and Voices of Austin—have been vocal opponents of Project Connect, which they say is too expensive and depends on unsecured federal funding commitments.
"Austinites need to know that this isn't a bond election," Voices of Austin Executive Director said in a statement. "You can pay off a bond. This election is about a permanent tax hike."
Further down the ballot, Proposition B gives voters the chance to approve a $460 million active mobility bond, with funding going toward sidewalks, urban trails, bikeways and Vision Zero, a campaign to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. If approved, this proposition would require a 2-cent increase to the city's property tax rate, which will be phased in between FY 2021-22 and FY 2025-26. Austin City Council voted 9-1 to include the issue in the election, with Council Member Jimmy Flannigan opposing and Council Member Allison Alter abstaining.
The ballot language is below:
The issuance of $460,000,000 in tax supported general obligation bonds and notes for planning, constructing, reconstructing, and improving sidewalks, urban trails, bikeways, bridges, roads, streets, intersections, and related utility and drainage infrastructure for the roads and streets; improving traffic signal synchronization and communications and control systems and acquiring and installing traffic signals and related technology to implement traffic safety and traffic fatality reduction strategies; and acquiring land and interests in land and property necessary to do so; and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay for the bonds and notes.
If this proposition is approved—and assuming the current tax rate remains unchanged and the media home value remains $362,631—the median homeowner would see a $72.91 increase in their annual tax bill in 2026.
Austin Outside, a coalition of nonprofits and businesses, pushed for Proposition B, including organizing a petition with more than 3,200 signatures in support. Council Member Paige Ellis was the chief proponent of the proposition. "This will create a better environment, fight climate change and bring us closer to the city we dream of, that we want to play in," she said last month.
Some council members, including Flannigan and Ann Kitchen, raised concerns about how quickly the proposition came together.
"I'm pretty uncomfortable with it," Flannigan said ahead of the vote. "Furthermore, for me, it shines a light on how great Project Connect is. The two years of work, the broad city-wide effort, the multiple town halls in every district, the fact that we're using a tax rate election which is, like I've said, the most fiscally responsible way to build major infrastructure because it doesn't just build it, it ensures its long-term maintenance. Bonds don't do that. Bonds let you build it and then you've got to hope that you've got money later to maintain it."
More on the election:
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The Food and Drug Administration will consider Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine application for emergency use authorization in 5-to-11-year-olds on Tuesday. The vaccine will likely be available to kids starting next week.
With 2.9 million Texas children in this age group, state health officials say this is a "big factor" in reducing the virality of COVID. At a Monday press conference, the Texas Department of State Health Services released info on the rollout efforts of the vaccine for children.
Here are some of the answers to your questions.
When and where will it be available?St. David's Healthcare staff unpack the first few shipments of its initial supply of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday.(St. David's Healthcare)
Assuming the FDA approves this version of the Pfizer vaccine this week, vaccines will start shipping out almost immediately with the first vaccines for children likely available next week.
DSHS has already put in an order of vaccines under the federal government's "pre-order prior to launch" program.
COVID vaccine providers will begin receiving those first shipments 1-5 days after the approval. After Monday night, DSHS will have put in three different orders for vaccines. The second shipment will arrive 3-7 days after approval and the third shipment will take place 5-9 days after the approval.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 to discuss best practices for administration, allowing for the first shots to be administered after.
The state will be allocated 1.3 million doses across 814 providers in 120 counties. Individual county allocations have not been released but each county got to send a request for how many doses they may need. Federal retail pharmacies, such as H-E-B and Walgreens, are getting their own shipments.
The health department advises using its vaccine finder tool to find the nearest vaccine provider near you.
How is this version of the vaccine different than the first one?Abbott says COVID vaccine to be available to other groups by end of March
The COVID vaccine for 5-11-year-olds is one-third of the dosage of the current vaccine available to those 12 years of age and older.
It is being identified as the orange cap vaccine, unlike the current purple cap. The purple cap vaccine cannot be administered to younger kids, according to the state health department.
And like the current vaccine, it is 95% effective. The first and second doses are the same and will be advised to be taken 21 days apart.
What are the side effects for children?
During clinical trials, it was reported that some kids in this age group felt pain at the injection site, fatigue and headaches.
The data submitted to the FDA shows no serious complications, such as cases of myocarditis inflammation of the heart muscle, or pericarditis, inflammation of the outer lining of the heart—rare complications that have been reported among young boys and men receiving the vaccine in other trials.
How will this affect herd immunity?
With so many children across the state, DSHS said "we need to have as many people vaccinated as possible."
State health officials said the herd immunity threshold is still being looked into, but with 3 million children soon to be able to get the vaccine, it will be a big factor in reducing the viral load in the state.
"Until we're able to add all the children, we'll see a bigger wave in stamping down the pandemic," DSHS' Imelda Garcia said during the conference.
Of those 12 and older, 72% are fully vaccinated in Travis County as of Monday.
I'm not sure if my child needs this vaccine. Why should I have them get it?
DSHS says this vaccine is important for young kids because it will protect the older population and others around them as well as themselves. The department says to ask experts and doctors questions if you are hesitant so you can be confident with your decision.
Tesla is officially in with the big guns.
After Hertz Global Holdings Inc. placed an order of 100,000 Teslas—the biggest single electric car purchase ever—Tesla officially hit the $1 trillion market cap for the first time.
The trillion-dollar club has some big names, including Apple, Facebook and Amazon. With the purchase, Tesla's stock shot up to more than $1,045 a share by midday Monday, a new record after topping $900 a share just a day earlier.
The $4.2 billion deal is the biggest purchase of electric vehicles to date. Hertz said it will use the Teslas to round out their fleet of electric rental cars by 2022 just months after filing for bankruptcy protection.
The news came just days after Tesla followed its leader, CEO Elon Musk, and relocated its headquarters to Austin. Austin's Giga Texas plant, which is currently finishing construction, is set to begin producing Cybertruck models at the end of 2022 and will begin "volume production" by 2023, Musk said in the meeting.
Musk celebrated the stock market victory on Twitter.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 25, 2021
Shortly after moving to Austin, Tesla saw its best quarter yet with Q3 revenue coming in at $13.76 billion—up from $8.77 billion this time last year. It was the electric car companies' ninth straight profitable quarter.
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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
While Northwest Arkansas isn't exactly looking to be a breakfast taco-loving, live music-having tech hub, it is branding itself as the Austin of yesteryear. And who better to come to the quickly-growing paradise than Austinites themselves?
OZ Brands is the latest NW Arkansas organization to entice Austin residents to pack up and make the move. The company, which is named after the area's Ozark Mountains, promotes travel, trails and art within the region and is owned by Runway, a NW Arkansas business investment group. Runway is headed by Walmart founder Sam Walton's grandsons, Steuart and Tom Walton.
OZ is targeting Austinites with the "One Way Out" giveaway, a program that will give at least 10 Austinites a one-way Allegiant ticket from Austin to the Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
"Fall is the perfect time to visit and explore the natural beauty of the Ozarks," the program's website reads. "Why just one way, because once you're here, you won't want to leave!"
Why swap cosmopolitan Austin for NW Arkansas' forest-filled hideaway? Just like other local programs including the Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce and the NW Arkansas Council, OZ Brands is looking to capitalize on priced-out Austinites who may not be pleased with the region's unprecedented growth.
"It's okay, Austin, we get it. You're tired of the tourists, the traffic, the hassle," the website says, escalating to an all-caps message reading, "YOU NEED A BREAK, AND WE ARE HERE TO GIVE IT TO YOU."
OZ is far from the first program to offer financial incentives to move to the area. Ads for Greater Bentonville began cropping up on the feeds of Austinites weeks ago as they promoted their annual tech summit, while the NW Arkansas Council rolled out similar ads. Instead of "Austin City Limits," the organizations promised "Bentonville City Limitless." If you "wish you'd bought in Austin 10 years ago," the Council promises that the area is perfect for you.
The Greater Bentonville Chamber of Commerce and NW Arkansas Council have both made moves to bring Austinites to the region. (Greater Bentonville)
Like similar programs in the past, One Way Out "is an opportunity for Austinites who no longer feel at home in their own city to see for themselves the value and qualities of Northwest Arkansas ... It's for those living in the Texas city who feel the growing pains of Austin expanding beyond its limits," the company said in a press release.
The region has recently experienced substantial growth, moving to fourth on the U.S. News and World Report's list of 150 Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2021-2022 and enjoying an influx of businesses, tech workers and startups tired of the West Coast's crowds and priciness. And with a great arts and culture scene, a lower cost of living and even a financial incentive to move to the area, talents like film producer Kristin Mann decided it was time to swap Austin for sunnier skies in Arkansas.
"I love (Austin) how it is now, don't get me wrong, but I've always fantasized about what it might have been like before it really exploded," Mann said. "And I feel like that's similar here...There's something really unique about this town, and it feels like there's something really exciting happening here."
The contest ends Oct. 29 and is open to anyone 18 and older that lives within 50 miles of Austin. Winners must book their trip within four months of the competition and finish the trip by May 1, 2022.
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