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Council Cutting it Close on Bond Election

City of Austin

A dueling set of recommendations and a council member’s medical leave of absence lead to a series of tie votes earlier today regarding November’s bond spending package – meaning the Austin City Council needs to act pronto to set the ballot.

Council member Bill Spelman’s absence was acutely felt at this morning’s work session, as the council split on what should be included in a $385 million bond package the city presents to voters this fall.

A motion supported by council members Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo took the $400 million recommendation from the city’s Bond Election Advisory Task Force as the starting point for negotiations. A series of amendments then added additional items to the tally, and subtracted others. 

Cole’s motion came in a hair over $385 million – the amount of projects the city can finance without a tax increase. But the proposal failed by a tie vote, three to three.

Council member Mike Martinez took a similar tack, adding and subtracting programs. But his proposal used the city manager’s proposed $385 million package as a starting point instead.

Both proposals preserved the bulk of recommended projects. There was also considerable overlap between the proposed additions and cuts – for example, each proposal included funds for the expansion of Austin Studios, and cut (to varying degrees) funding for a new police substation in northwest Austin, as council noted funds approved in 2006 for a northeast substation had not been spent yet.

Still, council couldn’t reach consensus – meaning another split 3-3 vote. “I’m afraid that puts us into special called meeting territory,” Mayor Lee Leffingwell said after the second unsuccessful vote.

As the bond ballot must be approved on three readings, and the deadline to set the ballot is Aug. 20, the city scheduled three special called meetings for Friday, Aug. 17, Saturday, Aug. 18, and Monday, Aug. 20. Council members may not need all those meetings if they can approve the package by supermajority vote (5 votes). But as the disagreement today showed, that may be easier said than done. 

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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