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Mayor, Travis Legislators

Friday, June 22, 2001 by

Irked about medicaid veto

Veto could cost Austin $30 million

Mayor Kirk Watson joined Democratic members of the Travis County legislative delegation at Brackenridge Hospital Thursday to criticize a veto by Governor Rick Perry. HB 2807, authored by Austin Democratic Representative Ann Kitchen and Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, was one of the 78 vetoed by Perry Sunday. The measure would have directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to apply for more federal matching funds to cover health care costs in local communities.

In his veto proclamation, Governor Perry stated he would prefer the agency to focus its efforts on “sound and effective management of the Medicaid program” and on dealing with the anticipated re-organization of the Medicaid system.

According to Kitchen, the measure could have generated sixty cents in federal funding for every forty cents spent locally on health care. That would have meant up to $30 million for Austin. “It is money that is lost,” said Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, “because it is money that the taxpayers have already paid and they deserve to get back their fair share of the taxes.”

Watson cited recent figures showing 84,000 people in Travis County with incomes below the federal poverty level. ”Our Medical Assistance Program serves 21,000 of those people,” Watson said. “HB 2807 offered an opportunity to match federal dollars with our local dollars, and that would have allowed us to expand services to our neediest residents.”

Democratic members of the Travis County delegation lined up to criticize not only the veto but also Gov. Perry's lack of participation in the legislative process. Kitchen said Perry vetoed the measure, which had been approved by both houses and sent to him on May 17th, “without speaking to me or any member of the delegation.” Representative Glen Maxey (D-Austin) complained that the governor's office had not provided any warning that there might be a problem with the legislation. ”The House Appropriations Committee met for literally hundreds of hours this session. Never did Governor Rick Perry or his staff raise an issue about this bill.”

Also at the news conference at Brackenridge Hospital to voice their displeasure were Representatives Elliott Naishtat and Dawna Dukes. Neither Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe nor Barrientos attended, but each signed letters supporting HB 2807.

The elected officials are now putting public pressure on Perry to request the federal matching funds through administrative channels. “The governor said in his veto of this bill and several others, ‘I can do this administratively’,” said Maxey. “Governor Perry, it’s time to lead. Pick up the pen, sign the waiver, and bring those federal dollars that belong to Austin and Travis County back to our community.”

As ROMA starts to plan

Rainey, some ask why?

Review to evaluate options for area

ROMA Design will launch a new review of the Rainey Street area by mid-July, Urban Planner Jana McCann told a joint meeting of the Design Commission and Downtown Commission last week. A study of the 80-acre neighborhood bordered by I-35, Cesar Chavez, Trinity Street and Town Lake was approved by the City Council last July. McCann termed the work a study of alternatives rather than a master plan of the area. Unlike ROMA’s previous projects—the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport and the Seaholm Plant—the Rainey Street area is still privately owned.

The City Council was poised to launch the study last summer, around the same time the Seaholm study was approved, but developer Gordon Dunaway stepped up and offered to buy out local landowners to redevelop the area, McCann said. Thus, the Rainey Street study was put on hold. McCann said the ROMA plan will outline the support for three options: preservation of the current historic neighborhood with some appropriate in-fill development; blending the historic with new retail or commercial projects; and the razing of the structures in the area to accommodate full redevelopment.

But developer Perry Lorenz—who has his own plans for the area along with Robert Knight—questions why the city would go through another study of the Rainey Street area when a study of the downtown neighborhood and its stakeholders has already been completed by Lorenz and Knight. Lorenz said the desire to see full redevelopment of the Rainey Street area is almost unanimous among homeowners. Both serve on the Downtown Commission.

“We’re not going to fight the study. We’re certainly going to cooperate,” said Lorenz, who with Knight is already a principle landowner of the Rainey Street area. “But why are we going to pay somebody $100,000 to find out something that we already know? How helpful is that?”

Lorenz said all but a handful of homeowners have agreed to sell out to developers in the neighborhood. That’s what Lorenz and Knight learned two years ago through stakeholder meetings, which Lorenz said, included full participation of the city. Lorenz called the agreement among the landowners of the area “amazingly high.”

The hard part will not be putting alternatives for Rainey Street on the table, Lorenz said. Rather, it will be trying to secure a demolition permit for the neighborhood. Rainey Street itself, the soul of the neighborhood and the heart of any good redevelopment project, says Lorenz, is already listed in the National Register of Historic Places. That means a developer would have to fight on two fronts: first before the Historic Landmark Commission to request an overlay district and second before the City Council. If even a single property owner protests, a supermajority of the Council—6 out of 7 members—would be required for new zoning.

“ROMA may come up with options, but it’s still the City Council that’s going to have to make the tough decision,” said Lorenz, adding, “You can’t tell me that City Council doesn’t already know what the options are on Rainey Street.”

So Lorenz expects the ROMA study to tell him what he already knows. Meanwhile, Dunaway has continued with his plans of a mid-rise condominium project, the Monarch, at the foot of Rainey Street. Lorenz says there’s plenty of room for both developers in the market.

At last week’s meeting, some commissioners, including architect Stan Haas questioned why California-based ROMA appeared to be the only consultant to grab the city’s master planning contracts. McCann said she could only assume it was because the City Council had been happy with ROMA’s work on other projects such as Mueller. The Rainey Street award was combined with the Seaholm contract.

ROMA also was involved with the initial effort to design a waterfront overlay master plan, McCann said. She conceded that the city might have gone too far handing so much planning work over to one firm, regardless of work performance. The move had certainly disheartened some in the local consulting community, she told the commissioners.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rep. Green only Central Texan on list . . . Texas Monthly revealed its 10 Best & 10 Worst Legislators yesterday, with Republican Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) named to the latter list. Monthly editor Paul Burka and writer Patricia Kilday Hart pronounced Green not only unlikable, but also one constantly involved in “ethical pratfalls.” Green, they remembered, sent fundraising letters to lobbyists for the Torch of Freedom Foundation—which he founded. There was also the story about Green helping a family friend get paroled after loaning Green’s family $400,000. Making an infomercial for a nutritional substance called the Focus Factor, while using his Capitol office as a backdrop, was probably the last straw for the Monthly writers. They noted that Green asked to be edited out of the commercial. Others receiving the Monthly’s opprobrium were Senators John Carona (R-Dallas), Mario Gallegos (D-Houston), Chris Harris (R-Arlington), Mike Jackson (R-LaPorte) and Carlos Truan (D-Corpus Christi); also State Representatives Gary Elkins (R-Houston), Domingo Garcia (D-Dallas), Suzanna Gratia Hupp (R-Lampasas) and Fred Hill (R-Richardson) . . . Named Best . . . Texas Monthly named Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff as one of the 10 Best. Also on that list were Senators Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Judith Zafferini (D-Laredo). The following State Representatives were also named to the best list: Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Paul Sadler (D-Henderson) and Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson). Burka noted, with chagrin, that they had named Governor Rick Perry “furniture,” a term for those having the least effect on the legislative process. He said he regretted the choice because Perry obviously greatly affected the process by his 78 vetoes. However, Burka said, Texas Monthly went to press 10 days ago—well before Perry acted. Clearly, Burka will be joining the group pounding Perry for those vetoes when he writes his next column. However, he said he did not see the vetoes as a long-term political problem for the governor . . . Martin good-bye party . . . Staff from the city’s Law Department, as well as representatives from other departments, honored City Attorney Andy Martin yesterday at the Zilker Garden Center. It was a time of recollections, gifts and good-byes for the lawyer who has been at the helm during a time when the city has prevailed in a number of important land use cases.

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