Local Impact

Austin doesn't win some, doesn't lose some

Local Impact
Ilustration by Jason Stout

About $25 million. That's how much extra money all the lawmakers, lobbyists, and day trippers dropped into the local economy during the recent legislative session. "It's a small number of people, but they're here for a long period of time," said Beth Krauss, media relations manager for the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Before the session, the city called the state budget its No. 1 issue – specifically, ensuring that "costs or revenue needs are not shifted to city taxpayers and residents." In addition, there were concerns about the slate of property tax appraisal cap bills that ultimately went nowhere. So, city spokesman Reyne Telles said, "Wins in the city's mind can be things that didn't pass, that would have cost the city millions of dollars."

One victor in that war was the Austin Water Utility, which fought off requirements to install auxiliary generators at its water and wastewater plants. Similarly, working with other major utilities, they toned down a proposed hike in consolidated water qual­ity fees. Currently, the utility pays $75,000 a year for each large treatment plant it runs. The $200,000 replacement fee originally proposed in House Bill 1433 was trimmed down to $100,000 in 2010, followed by index-linked price rises.

Amid the piles of bad legislation that died, there are just as many good bills that went nowhere. Like much of the electric industry, Austin Energy was disappointed by the death of the solar incentives in Senate Bill 545 and the net metering provisions in HB 1243, which would have encouraged small retail customers with their own generators to sell back into the grid. If those bills had passed, it would have meant legislative support and grants for the kind of renewable and distributed production that AE champions. In fact, utility spokesman Ed Clark said, "During committee meetings, Austin Energy's name came up a lot as a model." With the nation's leading efficiency and renewable programs in place, he added, "Anything they were trying to do statewide, we would already be at that point."

Despite the disappointments, there's one big win for the city: $182 million for the state's Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (dependent on comptroller approval and then subject to applications) and a guaranteed $8.7 million for rail improvements between San Antonio and Austin.

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