We believe Gus Garcia is more than just the best person in this race; he may indeed be the one person on the political scene best suited to be mayor at this historical juncture. The last thing we need is a polarizing figure by whose ideas many Austinites can't abide, be it Eric Mitchell or any of several almost-candidates who chose not to run.
Mayor of Austin: Gus Garcia
Having said that, we hope this mini-campaign isn't simply a coronation. We need public discourse vibrant enough to give Garcia and the City Council the input they need to steer the civic ship through mighty troubled waters. It's been suggested that Garcia will simply be a caretaker, and that the real hour of decision for the city will come with next May's council elections. But Gus loves Austin and takes seriously the responsibility of being mayor.
Travis County voters traditionally vote overwhelmingly in favor of road bond packages, but we're sticking our necks out here and recommending "no" votes on the road bonds. Contrary to the supporters' claim that these road projects will relieve traffic congestion and promote safety, we envision more traffic, more accidents -- and, of course, a call for more roads. Of the four propositions in this package, we're endorsing one -- the lone non-road project that would upgrade and develop four county parks. Given these unsettling times, $185 million seems an exorbitant price to pay for the overall road-heavy bond package.
Travis County Bond Propositions
Should the local citizenry break from its historical voting record and reject the road bonds, we would hope that County Commissioners present the public with a more palatable package next time -- one that would benefit all residents, not just those who live outside of the tax-strapped core.
Here are our recommendations on each of the four propositions:
Prop. 1: Local Roads, Drainage, Bridges, Pedestrian Access -- NO
It's unfortunate (or calculated) that worthy fix-it jobs for bridges and drainage trouble spots are packaged in the same proposition with far-less-worthy sprawl road projects. Voters, for example, should have a right to decide between expanding Travis Cook Road to benefit affluent suburbanites in the environmentally sensitive southwest, or repairing the aging Old Manor Road Bridge in the neglected eastern pocket of the county.
It's ironic, in fact, that most of the bridge and drainage work projects are needed east of I-35. By contrast, the majority of road extensions and expansions are slated for the booming northwestern fringe of the county, where an awful lot of Williamson County residents travel into and out of Austin. This northwest portion alone would eat up nearly half of this particular $57.4 million proposition. We urge voters to reject this tainted bond measure.
Prop. 2: County Parks Projects -- YES
The parks proposition offers a refreshing departure from the road-centric bond package. This measure asks voters to approve $28.6 million to buy land for two new parks in east and southwest Travis County and to upgrade and renovate two existing parks in the southeast and northeast. The parks are not nature parks per se, but fully developed recreational areas with ball fields, tennis courts, and picnic grounds. When it comes to celebrating the great outdoors, we happen to like both varieties of parks. Hats off to Prop. 2.
Prop. 3: SH 45 North and FM 1826 -- NO
Some people point cheerfully to the SH 45 North project and call it "Smart Growth" because it is miles from the endangered Edwards Aquifer and lies within the city's desired development zone. But the road boosters can't very well make the same claims for FM 1826 (its planned extension would cross directly over the aquifer) so they deem that project a safety and congestion-relief issue.
We don't buy either argument, frankly. This proposition calls for $32.7 million in bonds to purchase right-of-way land to build the eastern and western tips of SH 45 North along the Travis/Williamson County lines. The second R-O-W acquisition would aid in the expansion of FM 1826, from U.S. 290 West to Slaughter Lane, near the Travis/Hays County lines. We've said this many times before and we'll say it again here: You don't reduce traffic by expanding and building new roads. Vote No on 3.
Prop. 4: SH 130 -- NO
Lest you think we're reversing our prior endorsements of this 91-mile highway, this is not a vote against SH 130; rather, it is a vote of No Confidence in the bureaucrats running the show. This proposition asks voters to approve more than $66 million to round out the county's contribution toward right-of-way land acquisitions, for the highway's construction through eastern Travis County. In this same vein, county residents previously approved $4 million in 1997 and $20 million in 2000 for land purchases. The state continues to jack up the financial responsibilities of participating counties, and even now there is no guarantee that this election will be the last time we'll be asked to kick in R-O-W funding for the project.
The state and the counties need to settle their financial squabbles before voters are guilted into shelling out another dime for a project that's trumpeted as an I-35 traffic reliever. Additionally, the state should figure out the financial and traffic implications of toll road vs. free road in order for voters to make informed decisions. Until these matters are settled, we urge voters to reject this proposition.
As an afterthought, we endorse the elimination of the county surveyor's position, as the bulk of these responsibilities are now handled by the Travis County Appraisal District.
Editor's note: Editor Louis Black abstained from the Travis County bond endorsements.
The ballot includes 19 proposed amendments to the state constitution. One defensible position would be to vote NO on every single one -- for the simple reason that this is no way to run a state government, nor to rewrite a constitution. Arguably, not a single one of this year's amendments belongs in a document of fundamental governmental principles. Rejection of all the proposals might take us one step forward toward real constitutional revision, and toward a real modern Legislature unable to bypass or obscure its most important responsibilities. The Chronicle suggests that each voter, pondering these baroque and obscure proposals, strongly consider rejecting them all -- especially those that are so vague as to defy comprehension.
State Constitutional Amendments
That said -- this remains the only government we've got, and a few of these proposed amendments appear to be the only currently available ways to make modest improvements in state law and/or public services. So if you're not in the mood for blanket rejection, we make the following distinctions and recommendations among the proposed amendments, and recommend approval of four of them: numbers 1, 2, 11, and 17.
The amendments fall into three approximate categories:
A. Corporate Welfare/Special Interests: NO
Four of the proposed amendments are outright corporate welfare, i.e., legislative grants to special interests. Not only are they bad amendments, they're bad law. Number 16 would make it easier to use the law to strong-arm working consumers. The Chronicle strongly urges a No vote on the following amendments:
3. Authorizing ad valorem tax exemption for raw cocoa and green coffee held in Harris County. NO
10. Authorizing ad valorem tax exemption for goods in transit. NO
14. Authorizing ad valorem tax exemption for travel trailers. NO
16. Shortening the waiting period for home improvement liens and allowing homestead liens for manufactured homes. NO
B. Bond Authorizations
Four of the amendments represent potentially huge state expenditures to be underwritten by bond authorizations of questionable size and completely unspecified detail. Only one -- No. 2, underwriting roads to border colonias -- is arguably an emergency. Amendment No. 19 is especially bad -- underwriting massive future water projects of little specificity and less certain utility, it would readily become a broad-brush license to waste both money and water.
2. Authorizing bond issuance for access roads to border colonias. YES
7. Authorizing $500 million in bonds for veterans' housing loans and cemeteries. NO
8. General obligation bonds for state agency construction and repair projects. NO
15. Creating a highway bond fund and allowing state spending on toll roads. NO
19. Authorizing an additional $2 billion in general obligation bonds for water projects. NO
C. Not of Constitutional Substance
Nine of the proposed amendments would enact policies that should be addressed not by constitutional amendment but by legislation. Of this group, only three merit serious consideration for approval, because they address matters of equity: clearing confused land titles in Bastrop County, thereby allowing longtime residents to retain their homesteads (Nos. 1, 17), and allowing teachers to receive payment for public service (No. 11). These are problems rooted in the existing constitution, which can be fixed only by Band-Aid amendments such as these, or by a complete overhaul of the whole mess.
1. Relinquishing state interest in land in Bastrop County. YES
4. Increasing the term of the firefighters pension commissioner. NO
5. Allowing cities to donate used firefighting equipment to foreign countries. NO
6. Requiring the governor to call a special legislative session to appoint presidential electors when the outcome is in doubt. NO
9. Canceling special election if legislative candidate is unopposed. NO
11. Allowing schoolteachers to receive pay for serving on local government boards. YES
12. Eliminating duplicative and obsolete provisions from the Constitution. NO
13. Allowing school districts to donate old schoolhouses for historic preservation. NO
17. Settling land-title disputes between the state and private landowners. YES
18. Consolidating and standardizing court fees. NO
Early Bird Alert!
As election hounds already know, early voting in the Nov. 6 election began Monday, Oct. 22, and continues through Nov. 2. Except where noted, early voting locations are open Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm, and Sundays from noon-6pm.
Travis County Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe
University of Texas, UGL Lobby, West Mall
Fiesta Mart, 3909 N. I-35
HEB, 2701 E. Seventh
Highland Mall, 6001 Airport Blvd., Lower Level (by JC Penney) -- Monday-Saturday, 10am-9pm; Sundays, noon-6pm
Northcross Mall Food Court, 2525 W. Anderson
HEB Pflugerville, 1434 Wells Branch Parkway
HEB Springdale, 7112 Ed Bluestein Blvd.
Randalls Food Mart, 10710 Research
HEB Four Points, 7301 N. FM 620
Lakeline Mall, 11200 Lakeline Mall Dr., Mervyn's Court, Lower Level (Monday-Friday, Oct. 22-26, 8am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm; Monday-Friday, Oct. 29-Nov. 2, 7am-7pm)
HEB, 2400 S. Congress
HEB William Cannon, 6607 S. I-35
Randalls Food Market, 2025 W. Ben White Blvd.
HEB Oak Hill, 7010 Hwy. 71 W,
Barton Creek Square Mall, 2901 Capital of Texas Hwy. S., JC Penney, Lower Level (Monday-Saturday, 10am-9pm, Sundays, noon-6pm)
HEB Bee Caves, 12400 Hwy. 71 W.
City of Austin residents residing in Hays or Williamson Counties may cast early votes at any of the Travis Co. locations listed above. Election day is Nov. 6. For more info, see the city Web site: www.ci.austin.tx.us/election/.