With early voting underway, Austin residents are already casting their ballots for or against Proposition A, a city property tax rate increase that, if approved, would help pay for Project Connect, a $7.1 billion overhaul of the city's transit system.
The measure has prompted the formation of two political action committees, countless op-eds and our own guide, which answered questions such as: How much will Prop A raise my property tax bill? And: How likely is it that the federal government will help pay for Project Connect?
Today, we are publishing a short argument from both sides of the debate.
Chas Moore, Nora Linares-Moeller, David Foster and Jeremy Hendricks write in support of Prop A. Moore is the executive director of the Austin Justice Coalition. Linares-Moeller is executive director of HousingWorks Austin; she donated $263.47 to the Mobility for All PAC, according to campaign finance reports. Foster is the Texas director of Clean Water Action. Hendricks is a member of the executive board of the Laborers International Union of North America.
Jim Skaggs and Roger Falk write in opposition. Skaggs is the chairperson and CEO of the Seattle-based pharmaceutical company Aminex Therapeutics and has donated $14,000 to the anti-Project Connect PAC Our Mobility Our Future, according to campaign finance reports. Falk is an analyst with OMOF and volunteers with the Travis County Taxpayers Union, which was founded by former Austin City Council member Don Zimmerman.
Disclaimer: These submissions are the unedited views of both sides of the argument. Claims made have not been fact-checked to give the proponents and opponents a chance to speak their minds freely.
Pro: Prop A is a progressive step toward traffic relief, job creation and a greener planet
For such a proudly progressive city, Austin has been spinning its wheels with a transportation system stuck in the past.
Our roads-only approach to mobility has resulted in crushing congestion, exacerbated racial and economic inequities, and it keeps paving the way for environmental catastrophe.
Congestion-proof light rail will tie together UT, the Capitol, Downtown, South Congress, and the airport, and be supported by rapid bus citywide, new passenger rail in the Eastern Crescent, and more options for suburban commuters. Along with more than a dozen new on-demand neighborhood circulator zones, this complete network will finally provide a viable, scalable, and comprehensive alternative to crammed highways and parking headaches.
For Austin's transit-dependent riders — a group that is disproportionately Black, Latino, lower-income, or disabled — Project Connect slashes travel times and expands access to work, school, grocery stores, and health care.
Like other vital infrastructure projects, Project Connect will create thousands of jobs and drive billions into our local economy. But Prop A is a distinct departure from the failed model of road-building. This plan preserves neighborhoods and includes a historic $300 million anti-displacement investment that will create and preserve affordable housing so people who rely on transit will still be able to use it. Greater access to high-quality transit will give more households the option to save thousands each year by reducing the number of cars they own.
Finally, Prop A represents one of the most consequential steps we can collectively take to prevent climate change. Our transportation system is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in our community. By electrifying our bus fleet and getting more people to take transit, we can leave a cleaner, greener planet for our children and grandchildren.
Remember: Project Connect is a long-term investment in Austin's future. Despite misleading exaggerations, it will only increase your total tax bill by about 4 percent. For most residents, that's less than 80 cents per day.
Austin's population will grow by 2 million additional people by 2040. We can't afford not to vote for Prop A. It's finally time to move Austin in the right direction.
Con: Project Connect is too expensive, especially during a pandemic, and serves too few
PropA proposes the greatest city tax increase in history for ineffective, obsolete trains in Austin; where less than 2% use transit. Transit ridership has not increased in 30 years with spending $8 billion (today$) and population doubling.
PropA's $144 million/year will not fund Project Connect (PC); many billions in bonds are needed in the next eight years, increasing taxes again. Federal funding is unsubstantiated and doubtful. The Red Line had massive cost overruns, false ridership promises and no federal funding.
PropA results in a twenty-five percent city tax increase, that grows with appraisals. Promoted as "Regional" transit, this cost is exclusively paid by city property owners/renters.
80% of this Prop funds $250 million/mile, light rail. At full capacity, this rail's exaggerated ridership serves well less than 1% of regional mobility. All bus elements can be funded without record tax increases.
This is not a time for useless higher taxes, penalizing struggling businesses, homeowners, and renters. We need to reach a stable economic condition, with COVID-19 under control.
This pandemic and the possibility of more have placed transit systems in crisis and ridership is down more than 50%. Until transit's future design and capacity is established, investment in contagion vulnerable infrastructure is irresponsible.
Expansion of work-from-home substantially reduced commuting demand Project Connect hoped to serve. Reduction in traffic and vehicle emissions due to reduced commuting creates many times, 10-15 years earlier, the Project Connect benefits. NO COST TO PROPERTY OWNERS OR RENTERS.
Mobility is evolving, rail's old technology, will be obsolete before complete. A 17-mph trolley, stopping every other block, isn't "rapid/mass" transit.
Most growth isn't near trains. Unless you live near trains, access is challenging and time consuming. People won't abandon convenience and utility of personal vehicles for public transit's lost time and inconvenience.
It shouldn't take millions in propaganda and deceptive promises of congestion relief, jobs, social justice and climate change to sell a good plan.
This is a taxpayer funded, multi-billion-dollar jackpot for rail special interests and developers. Transit policy should be driven by logistics and need, not politics and greed.
This rail is an inequitable displacement machine, penalizing low income, working families. The "displacement" $300 million does not exist.
Some say past neglect justifies action, but this is a disaster plan and would be the most destructive project in Austin's history with years of disruption and pollution; digging up downtown with major impacts on businesses and mobility.
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The roar of Austin FC fans will be heard soon, as the newest Major League Soccer member looks to kick off their season in a brand new stadium in 2021.
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You've seen and heard messaging from the city, transit opponents, and the big money PACs. You've probably read Emma Freer's in-depth, multi-part series, a fact-based exploration of Project Connect—and the tax rate election proposal, known as Proposition A, that would fund it—from multiple perspectives.
Chances are, if you moved to Austin in the past two years, it was probably for a tech job.
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With films like Coco streaming on Disney+ and Day of the Dead Barbies lining Walmart shelves, it is clear that the commercial aspects of Dia de los Muertos are alive and well.
(Chris Caselli/Mexic-Arte Museum)
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Today is going to be a windy one, according to The National Weather Service, which predicted breezy conditions in the Austin area and South Central Texas.
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In round figures the 18 active candidates running for the five seats on the Austin City Council raised a quarter-million dollars just in the last few weeks alone and they spent more than a half-million dollars during the same period. Total fundraising to date is nearly $1.2 million.