Hey, Austin Voters, Here Are The Propositions On The Ballot This November.
Note: This is a story from October 2019. Looking for information on propositions before Austin voters in 2020? Find it here.
There's an election this November. You'll have a slew of state constitutional propositions to decide on, but at the city level you'll have just two.
Here's what they'll do.
First up is Proposition A. If passed, it would essentially add restrictions on the process by which the city leases out its land for large-scale projects and venues – like, say, a soccer stadium – and smaller projects, like youth sports organizations and theater groups.
Here's what you'll find on the ballot:
Shall a city ordinance be adopted that requires that a sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City-owned land for any existing or future youth, recreational, or professional sports facility or any existing or future entertainment facility be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members) and also be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must pay; requires that any site development permits and variances related thereto be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members); requires that site development permits and variances related thereto be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must pay, if the sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City-owned land for the facility has not already obtained voter approval; requires that the facility post payment and performance bonds and pay ad valorem taxes, or payments equal to the amount of ad valorem taxes; and requires that all information concerning such sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation shall be disclosed to the public.
Yes, all of that is on the ballot.
This proposition is the result of a petition led by two political action committees hoping to challenge the Major League Soccer stadium being constructed near the Domaine in North Austin. The PACs failed to stop the stadium and neither exists anymore – and neither is supporting this proposition.
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Proponents were hoping to require any potential stadiums built on city-owned land to be approved by voters. Instead, Prop A could create a bureaucratic headache for future Council members and voters. If passed, all deals for the use of city land for sports or entertainment would have to be approved by a supermajority of the Austin City Council and a majority of voters. That threshold also would have to be met to renew projects, including youth sports leases with groups like North Austin Optimist, recreational leases like the YMCA and entertainment deals like the Long Center or Zach Theater.
Opponents include Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Greg Casar, who argue Proposition A is on the ballot because the owners of Circuit of the Americas and the Austin Bold did not want a second professional soccer team to move to Austin. Both PACs that gathered signatures received most of their funding from Bobby Epstein, the chairman of COTA.
Proposition B, another petition-driven item, would require any expansion of the Austin Convention Center to be put to a vote and adjust how the city allocates revenue from taxing hotel stays, diverting more of it to cultural and tourism-minded efforts.
Here's what you'll find on the ballot:
Shall an ordinance be adopted that prioritizes the use of Austin's Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue by continuing the City practice to spend 15% of the Austin Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue on cultural arts and 15% on historic preservation, limiting the City' s spending to construct, operate, maintain, or promote the Austin Convention Center to 34% of Austin's Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, and requiring all remaining Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue to support and enhance Austin's Cultural Tourism Industry to the potential exclusion of other allowable uses under the Tax code; and requires the City to obtain voter approval and public oversight for convention-center improvement and expansion costing more than $20,000,000.
This proposition has some history.
It's a reaction to the city's in-progress, $1.2-billion push to expand the convention center and redevelop the historic Palm School. If passed, any proposed expansion costing more than $20 million over four years would be put to a public vote.
Then there's that bit about allocating the hotel occupancy tax – the money Austin collects from hotel stays. The city argues it can put that money only toward expanding the convention center. Prop B's proponents argue the city can (and should) use more of that money to support arts and music venues in an increasingly unaffordable city, and cap how much hotel tax revenue the city puts toward the center at 34%.
Opponents argue expanding the convention center was unanimously approved by Council after a long, four-study vetting process. On top of that, they argue the PAC behind the petition to get the proposition on the ballot – Unconventional Austin – is misrepresenting Texas tax law as it relates to hotel taxes.
The city’s initial ballot language for Prop B was struck down after proponents, including Nelson Linder – the head of the local chapter of the NAACP – sued. They argued it was misleading and could unconsciously cajole voters into panning the proposition.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Save Our Springs’ Bill Bunch was involved in the lawsuit over Proposition B's ballot language. This story has also been updated to fix a grammatical error in the ballot language.