Point Austin: The Morning After
What voters said about taxes, city and county plans, and dogs
So, what do we know that we didn't know yesterday, pre-election?
It's not exactly a surprise that Texans love their doggies, as 94% of us voted to allow adoptions of police dogs at retirement (Proposition 10). The 6% nays reportedly came primarily from Feline County, in a long-forgotten part of West Texas, where the plentiful sunbeams are always gentle.
And it is not news that most Texans hate the word "taxes," whether it is pandered in the form of an exemption for rich people to deposit their doubloons in a Texas vault (Proposition 9) or whispered in the context of a mythical income tax (Proposition 4). That is also one big reason we are subject to such a regressive and inequitable state tax-raising system, and our schools are woefully underfunded. Credit our benighted state leadership, and ourselves. They yell "taxes!" and otherwise brave Texans reflexively cower. (For what it's worth, Travis County voters rejected both Props 4 and 9, to no avail.)
On the other hand, we're not too keen on elected municipal judges – the mere request that we allow them to serve in more than one court, because many cities need more than are available, resulted in the single defeated constitutional amendment (Proposition 1). With so many of us working two jobs to get by, you'd think we'd be sympathetic to others volunteering (as appointed judges already do) for more work on the bench. Nope – let defendants wait forever.
In case you're curious, in our never-ending parody of small-R-republican "limited" government, Texans have now amended our venerable 1876 Constitution more than 500 times. However, police doggies will henceforth have constitutionally protected Forever Homes.
Elections Have Consequences
Closer to our regular homes, Austin has its own serial romance with referendums. The two petition-created citizen initiatives (city Propositions A and B) were defeated, Prop A overwhelmingly because it was so badly conceived even its initial supporters had abandoned it, and Prop B handily (55%-45%) because voters were not persuaded that the current City Council (which has proposed expanding the Convention Center) has taken leave of its collective senses and sold its soul to the hotel industry (which under the plan, would be agreeing to raise taxes on its own customers – see "taxes" above). The Prop B campaign became quite bitter on both sides in its last weeks, and Unconventional Austin (proponents of Prop B) angrily accused opponents (which included the Chronicle editorial board) of employing "misinformation and lies" to fool the voters.
In the aftermath of the vote, the Unconventionalists did not respond to media inquiries about the outcome. Nevertheless, it's unlikely we've heard the last of them, especially from those who repeatedly take credit for enabling the 10-1, districted Council – while repeatedly doing everything they can to transfer decisions on major issues to at-large voters. That strategy again failed, in large part because the supposed beneficiaries of their effort – music and arts folks – instead believed the 10-1 Council.
It's worth reiterating that this vote does not mean the Convention Center will be expanded, nor that the currently grand Council proposal is the final one. A detailed staff plan, contractor proposals, ongoing cost estimates, changing conditions – those are all potentially derailing obstacles down the road, to be vetted in progress by the officials actually elected to do that kind of work.
Follow the Paper
Almost lost in the city glare was the successful Travis County Proposition A – put on the ballot by the elected Commissioners Court – which promises eventually to fund the revitalization and expanded use of the eastern Exposition Center, to include more community institutions (e.g., school districts), better neighborhood integration, possibly a major transit hub. All that is also down the road – provided city and county officials can work out their grumbling differences on the uses and timing of the hotel occupancy tax. (And all of these difficulties are partly the fallout of a state leadership determined to make it as difficult as possible for local governments to fund and serve – see "taxes," above.)
Finally, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has a lot of explaining to do about the lengthy delay in the vote count, not finalized until early Wednesday morning. Reportedly, some voters were so enamored of their new, printed "ballot cards" they neglected to deposit them in the scanning boxes, and wandered off – necessitating by law several late-night recounts. DeBeauvoir, so long beleaguered by "paper ballot" obsessives, is no doubt pondering the inevitable consequences of her latest good deed.