Save Austin Now's Prop A will include their own language, budget estimate after Supreme Court ruling
The Texas Supreme Court voted unanimously Wednesday for the city's Proposition A ballot language to be replaced with Save Austin Now's captioned ballot language, but the court held that a budget for the proposition must be included on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The proposition, which was placed on the ballot after receiving enough verified signatures on a petition, was rewritten by City Council on Aug. 11. Save Austin Now hopes to mandate minimum staffing levels at the Austin Police Department to two police officers for every 1,000 residents, increase cadet training and implement measures to improve police response times. City Council members added new language and a city-budget staff estimate that the requirements could cost between $54.3 million and $119.8 million each year for the next five years.
Former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire filed a lawsuit on Aug. 20 against the city for Save Austin Now due to its language and inclusion of the budget in the proposition. According to the Texas Supreme Court ruling, certain language will be taken out and the petition language will be inserted before the city's cost estimate, which will remain at the end of the proposition.
BREAKING: City wins on most critical issue on disputed ballot language.
The Texas Supreme Court held today that the $271.5 million to $598.8 million cost of Prop A must be included in November ballot language.
— Mayor Adler | Get vaccinated! (@MayorAdler) September 1, 2021
Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said that City Council's rewrite of the ballot was negatively biased against the cause. Supreme Court Justice Rebeca Huddle and the seven other justices unanimously voted against the city's rights to rewrite the ballot.
"The City did not have carte blanche to rewrite the petitioned caption wholesale, and abused its discretion by doing so," Huddle wrote.
Council Member Greg Casar and Mayor Steve Adler, who celebrated the inclusion of the budget, argue that the proposition will allocate too much city money to the police budget. Meanwhile, Mackowiak and Petricek called the vote a "big win for every Austin citizen."
Aleshire also celebrated the Supreme Court ruling.
"The Supreme Court's Opinion today will strengthen the rights of every Austin voter to be able to initiate ordinances without political interference by the City Council in manipulating the ballot language for the proposition," Aleshire said. "It is wonderful to see the Court enforce the Austin City Charter voter rights of the citizens of Austin."
Prop A will be included on the Nov. 2 ballot.
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Austin City Council has approved a $4.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2021-2022, where funds were prioritized in public safety, affordable housing and addressing homelessness.
After Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk proposed a budget in July, the city held public engagement events to receive public input before council approved the final budget that greatly reflected the proposed one on Thursday. The fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
The Austin Police Department was allocated a record-high $422 million for the fiscal year that will fund up to three new cadet classes, although the current one is still in a pilot phase after cadet classes were suspended last summer in the wake of mass protests against police brutality and criticism for the paramilitary approach in the classes.
"Council's actions today provide a path forward to build on Austin's many strengths while addressing the challenges we face as a city," Cronk said. "This Budget covers the increase in our base expenses, delivers our programs and services, and many of the critical reforms that our citizens want and that Council has prioritized, with minimal year-over-year impact on the typical Austin ratepayer."
Council voted on a 4.7% property tax increase from last year, higher than the originally proposed 3.5% increase. It was able to surpass the 3.5% state limit due to a disaster declaration from the February winter storm. The city tax bill for the typical homeowner—defined as the owner of a median-valued ($399,760) non-senior home—decreased by $17.12 per year. The combined impact of tax, rate and fee changes show an increase, for the typical ratepayer, of .6%, or an additional $28.12 per year.
Key points from the budget:
- A record-high $422 million for APD
- $79 million in voter-approved planned spending to reach key affordable housing goals.
- $65.2 million in continued funding for the City's response to the homelessness crisis, with specific funding allocated for preventing homelessness, crisis response, housing stabilization, and public space management.
- $27.7 million to construct new sidewalks and improve existing sidewalks citywide.
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Austin was named the No. 1 city in Texas and a top five city in the nation on the esteemed 2021-22 U.S. News Best Places to Live list.
The analysis judged cities based on having good value, being desirable, and having both a strong job market and a high quality of life.
Riding on its laidback "Keep Austin Weird" reputation, Austin was awarded the No. 5 spot thanks to its booming job market and desirability.
Austin's net migration was ranked highest of its factors with a score of 8.5 out of 10, while its desirability was given a 7.8 and job market was scored at a 7.5.
Boulder, Colorado took the top of the list, with Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Huntsville, Alabama; and Fayetteville, Arkansas rounding out the top five. The next city in Texas to be ranked was Dallas at No. 37.
This isn't Austin's first rodeo: the Texas capital fell from the number three spot on the 2020-21 list. It's was also named the best city to live in for three straight years from 2017-19 on the U.S. News & World Report.
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Austin's got its first mayoral candidate heading into the November 2022 race.
Jennifer Virden, a conservative real estate broker and general contractor who challenged District 10 Council Member Alison Alter last year, announced she is running in a series of tweets Monday.
As Mayor of Austin beginning in 2022, I'm going to lead and keep Council focused on what we are charged to do: competently manage and fund core municipal services, such as APD/AFD/EMS, water, waste, electricity, roads, and parks. (1 of 3)
— Jennifer Virden (@Jennifer4Austin) June 21, 2021
Virden's platform stands in sharp contrast to the direction of City Council in recent years, with four key planks, according to her campaign website:
- Restore police budget cuts
- End homeless camping
- Increase the homestead tax exemption to 20%
- End the land use code rewrite process
In addition to these issues, Virden tweeted that she would be a champion of parks and other green spaces, including the hotly debated Lions Municipal Golf Course, and "minimize the virtue signaling resolutions overwhelming our City Manager," if elected.
Regarding Muny, and our parks & nature preserves, there's a new, bona fide "Parks Lady" in town - me! I grew up in Austin & truly understand how our iconic parks & green spaces are a part of our DNA as Austinites - and I'm not just referring to neighborhood pocket parks. (2 of 3)— Jennifer Virden (@Jennifer4Austin) June 21, 2021
Let's maximize our attention to those things and minimize the virtue signaling resolutions overwhelming our City Manager. Let's do this in 2022! 🏆🏆🏆 (3 of 3)— Jennifer Virden (@Jennifer4Austin) June 21, 2021
Virden, a native Austinite, ran against Alter in the crowded District 10 council race last year. Both opposed the camping ban, but Virden clashed with Alter on other issues, including Project Connect, which Austinites overwhelmingly supported in the November election, and efforts to cut police funding. Virden forced Alter into a runoff, which she narrowly lost.
Although Austin mayoral and council seats race nonpartisan, Virden is a conservative candidate running in a very liberal city. Only 26% of Travis County voters supported Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race. Alter highlighted Virden's donations to a Trump-affiliated PAC in the runup to the Dec. 15 runoff, telling the Austin American-Statesman, "I think that tells a lot about someone's character." A coalition of Young Republican groups also hosted a "statewide deployment" of Republicans to Austin to support Virden around the same time.
Virden has received endorsements from two former Austin mayors: Lee Leffingwell, a Democrat who served two terms from 2009 to 2015 and endorsed Virden as well as District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly last year, and Ron Mullen, a former San Antonio police officer who served from 1983 to 1985.
Mayor Steve Adler's second and final term ends in early 2023, although he can petition for a third term. No other candidates have entered the race so far, but some speculate that District 4 Council Member Greg Casar and Adam Loewy, a personal injury lawyer and major donor to Democratic candidates, are mulling runs.
The winner of the 2022 mayoral race will serve a two-year term after Austin residents voted to change mayoral elections to presidential years in the May 1 local election. Another mayoral race will occur in 2024.
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