Page Two: Bond on Bond

All seven propositions on the current ballot represent a triumph of thought, vision, and planning

Page Two
Early voting in the Nov. 7 general election has begun. A recap of the Chronicle's election endorsements is offered on p.8 of this issue; the full text of our endorsements is available online at austinchronicle.com.

This column has, on occasion, lamented that almost all Americans feel like they are forced to pay the government too much for too little. Even liberals who believe in the social safety net and in government's social, economic, and educational responsibilities feel abused by being forced to contribute so greatly to the bloated defense budget. Lest pro-military-spending folks work themselves up: If we just limit "bloated" in the previous sentence to include programs and bases that the military itself has officially asked be abandoned and/or shut down but which have been kept alive by politicians, we are talking about substantial amounts of money. Libertarians favor as little government as possible, so they really resent feeding the beast. Republicans, in general, hold a similar position. Most combine anger at having to pay with a sense that the government doesn't really do anything, apparently barely making an impact on their lives at all.

Many buy the notion that the primary idea of taxes is to take the money one earns and give it to other people who haven't earned it – literally a redistribution of wealth. The briefest look at the most concise U.S. budget summaries would indicate that the amount of social spending that could be so construed is a relatively thin slice of the overall budget. If you include Social Security and Medicare in that equation, it becomes a much more impressive percentage, but that gets tricky when one examines the relationship between what people have paid into the system against what they take out.

Still, the argument implies that irresponsible, dependent Americans and masses of illegal immigrants rake in ill-gotten gains bestowed by a misguided, naive, inept government and their own inherent manipulations, dishonesty, and laziness. The image is of fleets of ghetto Cadillacs, paid for by welfare and owned by social parasites and irresponsible, single-mother "bastard factories."

My guess is that if you calculated it out, without even including proportionate amounts from the budgets for defense and running the government, most Americans probably derive far more from the government than they pay in taxes. One should just begin to contemplate each citizen's overall dependence on the government in terms of services, justice, order, defense, stability, education, health, mental health, food, water, and transportation, among others. There are all kinds of government-inspected, -developed, or -supported products and services we use every day of our lives; we just don't think about them. To those who would argue that the government does far too much in these areas, I would suggest studying what happened in the past when the government did far too little. All of you doing spit-takes over the above paragraph should rest assured that, given the Bush administration's wholesale budgetary butchery (especially, and most irresponsibly, on nonmilitary social, health, and education spending), that position should be objectively verifiable over the next decade.

Which brings us to the point: that the seven bond propositions up for vote on the current local ballot represent a triumph of thought, vision, and planning. Each one will contribute to the overall health, economy, functioning, services, and infrastructure of the city of Austin. The concern is that those who feel that almost all government spending is ridiculous, even when faced with the necessity and benefits of these propositions, will vote "no" on some or all of them, just to make a point. This will be throwing the baby – and the baby's future – out with the bath water.

Many people don't seem to understand the actual bond process. If voters pass a bond proposition, that does not mean those bonds will necessarily ever be issued. Final bond issuance for specific projects is subject to future official decisions, even future financial conditions. In the mid-Seventies, Austin passed bond propositions to buy tracts of what would become some of the most controversial Barton Springs Watershed land. The city manager decided against issuing them, and that land was never bought. I imagine there are currently bond propositions, approved by voters in past elections, that have yet to be issued. There are all kinds of considerations and calculations involved in these decisions.

When bonds are issued, there is no guarantee concerning how they will be received by buyers. Just issuing them is not selling them. Sometimes the bond market turns a cold shoulder on civic bonds.

Bonds are not grants. Bonds are essentially investor-financed loans. If issued and funded, the money must be repaid. Paying off bonds includes the ongoing payment of market-determined interest rates on the money borrowed until the principal is paid off.

Even those most contemptuous of any and all government spending would be hard-pressed to cite bonds issued by the city of Austin over the past couple of decades that haven't proven essential to basic city operations.

This election's unusually well-thought-out bond package is expansive in the range and scope of what would be funded. There are at best marginal objections to some of the propositions – though none of them is under significant assault from a coordinated citywide or special-interest-group campaign. Objections seem to be mostly general, having more to do with a distrust of Austin's fiscal management and concerns over the city's bonded indebtedness.

The Chronicle has endorsed all seven bond propositions. Included here are edited excerpts from last issue's endorsements. (Again, there is a recap of all Chronicle endorsements on p.8 of this issue.)

I urge you to vote YES on all the following:

Prop. 1: Roads, Mobility, Related Infrastructure ($103.1 million): Most of this package (approximately $85 million) is for repairing Austin's decaying roads; $10 million is allotted to sidewalks and bikeways.

Prop. 2: Flood Control, Open Space Acquisition ($145 million): $95 million to fund oft-delayed flood control and drainage projects and $50 million to purchase aquifer protection lands.

Prop. 3: Parks and Recreation ($84.7 million): For park renovations, future parkland acquisition, a new rec center, and a skate/BMX park.

Prop. 4: Cultural Facilities ($31.5 million): Investments in cultural institutions that will benefit the city, not only in terms of culture, diversity, resources, tourism, and activities, but also economically. More and more of our local economy is arts-related, with the music, film, arts, and literary communities responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

Prop. 5: Affordable Housing Programs ($55 million): Rental assistance for those making less than 30% of median family income and first-time home-buyer assistance for those in the 50-65% MFI range.

Prop. 6: New Central Library ($90 million): The existing library has long been inadequate: Stacks are severely overcrowded, the building is heavily worn from overuse, the meager computer resources are severely lacking, and it has no public spaces for meetings or lectures.

Prop. 7: Public Safety – Police, Fire, EMS, Animal Shelter ($58.1 million): To fund needed facilities: a combined public safety training campus, a new police substation, an EMS substation, a new municipal courthouse, and an animal shelter that doesn't flood during every rain.

All seven propositions are available online at www.ci.austin.tx.us/bonds. There, voters can also read them in Spanish and download an informative brochure. end story

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin 2006 bond propositions, November 2006 elections, Austin city budget, Austin city government, bond election, tax cuts, government spending, Bush administration

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