There's an election coming

up on November 4. Voters will be asked to consider 14 propositions to amend the Texas Constitution and eight propositions to spend nearly $100 million of bond money on such things as roads, criminal justice, and parks. On a separate ballot reserved for city voters will be a single proposition to change Austin's charter to regulate political fundraising and expenditures in city elections. Early voting continues through Friday, October 31. For a list of early voting locations and polling hours, call Travis County Elections Division, 473-9553 or visit the Travis County website at http://www.co.travis.tx.us/election.

The following are the Chronicle's endorsements:

Travis County Bond Propositions

Proposition 1: YES

This package provides $36 million for repair of substandard roads and bridges throughout the county.

Proposition 2: YES

This $19 million would go to creating and maintaining much-needed parks in Travis County.

Proposition 3: YES

This will allow the county to build a 100-bed "intermediate sanctions center" at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center to house young offenders where they can begin receiving preventive counseling and treatment.

Proposition 4: YES

This measure would provide $1.6 million in bond money to carve out a 4.5-mile trail in a historically under-served area of East Austin. The trail would also provide a link to new bike improvement projects proposed under Part II of the city's bike plan, which the Austin City Council is scheduled to adopt soon.

Proposition 5: NO

Proposition 5 is a cart-before-the-horse scenario in which Travis County would provide a $4 million down payment on its $62 million share of the right-of-way costs for the proposed SH130, a six-lane, 90 mile-long freeway that we are told will run parallel to (and east of) I-35 from Georgetown down to Seguin. Unfortunately, we can't be sure because the state has yet to finalize the route's design.

Although this highway is still being marketed, both here in Texas and in Washington, D.C., as a bypass of I-35, SH130's design so far suggests that it will more likely serve, at least in the near future, as another route from Austin's suburbs into its central city. Design uncertainties also mean there is no guarantee that traffic will not be allowed to shoot through East Austin neighborhoods between I-35 and the proposed SH130.

Proposition 6: NO

How many times do we have to say it? No roads over the Aquifer. To alleviate truck traffic on Brodie Lane, let's invest in traffic-calming measures, not spend $3.5 million in bonds to subsidize sprawl in the environmentally sensitive southwest.

Proposition 7: YES

The county would use the $2 million in bonds to build a new hangar for Starflight's two $5.8 million helicopters, as well as crew quarters, and a training area.

Proposition 8: YES

This $13.7 million proposition will allow for the second phase of construction at the county's Del Valle jail. If we don't fund this, the results will be inadequate services, a lack of safety for the inmates and the guards, and federal lawsuits down the road making us pay for all these things we didn't want to pay for, with lawyers' fees to boot.

Special Municipal Election

Proposition 1: Shall the City charter be amended to regulate political fundraising and expenditures in City elections?

Split endorsement: YES/NO

Arguments in favor:

In a world where the rich admittedly use their wealth to gain access to those in political office, equating money with free speech is a fallacy. Under the current system, a monied person's so-called free speech rings louder in the ears of a candidate seeking to hold, or hold onto, public office than a poor individual's voice.

Under the proposed initiative, individual and PAC contributions to candidates for mayor and city council would be limited to $100, ensuring that the Don Henleys and the business/developer PACs would no longer command more attention than the average voter. Only PACs that limited their contributions to $25 and less per member would be allowed to give candidates more than $100; they could give up to $1,000. Small donor PACs such as these, under the initiative, are designed to amplify the voices of citizens who may only be able to afford to make small contributions.

The proposed initiative caps at $15,000 the aggregate funds any one candidate can receive from sources outside Austin, ending the foreign-funded Cold War between big business and environmentalists on the battlefield of Austin's city elections.

Under the new reform scenario a PAC would be allowed to accept just $100 per member -- currently, there are no PAC-member contribution limits. While the proposed initiative cannot limit spending, it would at least force the group to find more popular support.

Another critical reform posed by this initiative has to do with "measures" PACs which form to promote a particular issue or ballot measure. Under the current system, private corporations such as Freeport-McMoRan can spend as much as they want to promote, for example, a county bond proposition to build more roads leading to its developments.The campaign reform initiative on the table would prohibit companies -- as well as associations and labor unions -- from giving one dime to a measures PAC. And, under the reforms, individuals who gave to a "measures" PAC would not be allowed to contribute more than $100.

The longterm interest of campaign finance reform is democracy -- giving the little guy the same access as the big guy to government. Does this initiative take steps towards that goal? Yes.

Arguments in opposition:

The power of big money is frightening but much of what is being proposed in A Little Less Coruption's proposition will do little to cure it. The prop limits our right to donate money to candidates in its quest for a level playing field, but it addresses problems that don't really exist. (For more, see the "Page Two" editorial by Louis Black.)

State Constitutional Amendments

Our blanket position on the 14 propositions to amend the Texas Constitution is to scrap the whole darn thing. We wish we could claim credit for coming up with this brilliant solution to what ails our state constitution, but we are just one among many groups and individuals crying out for our elected leaders (the Legislature) to take this unwieldy amendment process off our shoulders.

An excellent place to educate yourself on these props is at the League of Women Voters' website at http://www.main.org/leaguewv/home.html, where you will find not only the full text of the propositions, but also arguments pro and con. A League voter's guide will be available in local public libraries starting October 18.

Of the three charter endorsements the League bothered to make, we would like to add our endorsement to Proposition 3, which would give local jurisdictions optional methods to promote water conservation and reuse of water. The other two endorsements made by the League were against Proposition 10 which would turn existing crime victim statutory funds into dedicated funds, and Proposition 11 which would, according to the League, be a redundant proposal to limit the amount of state debt payable from general revenue.

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