Standing on Opposite Sides of the Road Bonds
If there was any doubt about the seriousness of the folks pushing the massive road and parks bond package, just one look at their latest financial reports proves their commitment. The Yes! Travis County Bonds Committee pulled out all stops and raised a whopping $122,775 in one month's time, mostly through handsome contributions from developers, builders, engineers, and other business interests -- in other words, those with an interest in the millions of dollars in contracts that would come from the proposed road and highway projects. By comparison, a coalition of environmental and neighborhood groups opposed to the overall package raised a modest $5,400 in the same time period.
Of the Yes! Committee's fundraising total, $103,000 was spent on consulting fees, phone banking, a countywide mailer, and some campaign signs, according to the financial report. The enviro/neighborhood opposition, on the other hand, is relying on well-honed grassroots efforts to hammer yard signs, distribute flyers, and generally spread the message through word of mouth and e-mails. This Saturday, for instance, members of the Austin Neighborhoods Together PAC, Sierra Club, Austin Neighborhoods Coalition, the Travis County Green Party, and the Save Our Springs Alliance plan to go door-to-door in the hopes of gaining some last-minute votes against the bonds.
The Nov. 6 bond election seeks voter approval on a $185 million package of four propositions:
(1) to expand traffic-heavy roads outside the city limits and fix long-standing drainage and bridge problems;
(2) to fund the construction of two new parks and renovate two existing parks;
(3) to acquire right-of-way land for State Highway 45 in northern Travis County and FM 1826 on the southern fringe; and
(4) to fund right-of-way land acquisition for SH 130 in the county's eastern precincts.
The Yes! Committee argues the bonds are needed -- as its $7,500 campaign slogan asserts -- to "Get Traffic Moving." Whether that message is strong enough to get people moving to the polls remains to be seen. Countywide voter turnout is expected to see its usual dismal numbers, with only about 50,000 ballots anticipated.
Political consultant David Butts, who is not affiliated with either campaign effort, was making only cautious predictions of the outcome early this week. "I think the roads and drainage proposition (Prop. 1) will pass, and SH 130 (Prop. 4) will pass. SH 45 (Prop. 3) and the parks (Prop. 2) might be a little dicey. I'd say they're both up for grabs," he said. "On the other hand, we might get all the roads and lose the parks, which would be unfortunate in my judgment." Butts went on to say that for all the money the pro-bond campaign is spending, the results have been less than impressive. "I got a feeble phone call from a paid phoner who obviously had no commitment. It didn't exactly inspire confidence." As for the opposition's efforts, Butts says he's seen a fairly extensive showing of signs across the city, "but that by itself probably is not enough."
"If this were a city election, I'd be feeling pretty good right now," observed Mike Blizzard, a consultant working for the opposition. "But because it's a county election, many voters are going to go to the polls without having seen our signs or flyers."
Yes! Committee spokesman Howard Falkenberg said bond-package proponents are working just as hard to spread their campaign message to central city voters as they are to suburbanites who would be more inclined to favor the propositions. "We're still debating this issue with Mr. Bunch and his band," said Falkenberg, referring to SOS Alliance leader Bill Bunch, one of the most outspoken opponents of the bond package. "Sometimes," Falkenberg continued, "it's hard for central city residents to understand how they can benefit from the bonds. Unfortunately, we're all a little insular, and if we don't see money being spent in our neighborhood, then we don't care as much. But traffic is something that affects all of us."
While the pro-bond committee is generally composed of development and big-business interests, Falkenberg proudly points to environmentalist Robin Rather as a bond backer. Her support came only after the controversial Frate Barker Rd. proposition was removed from the ballot. "Some environmentalists are turning their backs on traffic, and that's a huge mistake," Rather said. "Roads are not the only answer but they, unfortunately, are still part of the answer."