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Proponent says funding not needed until January

Tuesday, April 16, 2002 by

Council Member Will Wynn wants to know where the city will find the funds to fulfill the directives of Proposition 1, dubbed the Austin Fair Elections Act by its sponsors, should voters approve the public financing system May 4. Wynn and Mayor Gus Garcia have asked city staff to brief the Council at Wednesday’s work session on funding for the initiative. The amendment was placed on the ballot through the gathering of signatures on petitions, in a manner similar to those recently amassed by three City Council incumbents.

Wynn told In Fact Daily the amendment requires that the Council “immediately fund” the proposal, which is capped at one-quarter of one percent of the city’s $2 billion budget. Reading the amendment literally, Wynn says, “To me that means the meeting after the election we need to put money into the fund, so it’s very appropriate and prudent to discuss where we will find the funds.”

Garcia’s executive assistant, Paul Saldaña, said his boss supports the early identification of what the city might do in order to fund the initiative. Sales tax revenues are at least a million dollars lower than what had been projected for the year.

Fred Lewis of the Clean Campaigns organization, which got the signatures to put the amendment on the ballot, scoffs at Wynn’s concern. He said the money does not have to go into the fund immediately, since no candidates will be asking for the funds until next January. “It’s a bookkeeping entry at most. The world has not ended with partial public financing in the United States . . . I find the whole thing to be further scare-mongering.”

Wynn said City Manager Designee Toby Futrell will be outlining items that the city must fund this summer. He said Futrell had not previously included the campaign fund as an item on that list. Wynn said he intends to identify the source of funds—likely from some other city department—that must be cut at Thursday’s Council meeting.

According to Lewis’ calculations, participating City Council candidates will be able to get a maximum of $72,000 in public funding, while Mayoral candidates could receive twice that amount. If non-participating candidates exceed the spending limits imposed on participating candidates, the candidates who do participate in public financing will be able to ask for more money. “Similarly, races in which substantial independent expenditures (25% of the expenditure limits) occur,” or $25,000 for Council races, “will trigger additional dollar for dollar public funding for participating candidates that have reached the original expenditure limit, up to the 50% cap,” writes Lewis.

Lewis was pleased to point out that single-member districts would also considerably increase City Council costs—possibly even more than public financing. According to figures from the City Clerk’s Office, adding four new Council members next year will cost about $820,000.

He said, “If we have 2.5 candidates per race, the cost will be about $660,000 without any offsets, without the qualifying contributions, lobbyists’ fees and utility check-off, which I believe can be implemented.”

Based on experience in New York, Maine and Arizona, Lewis says it is unlikely that a large number of candidates will participate, especially in the beginning. However, Wynn says, “Some organizations are planning to run at least two members to run attack ads against a common enemy,” since there is no prohibition against pooling money. Those organizations would be considered inimical to the current City Council, or at least some of them, and to the amendment. Other staff members have suggested that the Hyde Park Baptist Church would have no troubling fielding candidates, collecting 500 signatures and the $5 per person required to qualify for public funding. Wynn agreed, noting that the church has 13,000 members. In Fact Daily has not contacted any representative of the church to see if Hyde Park Baptist’s leaders have considered the option.

Wynn said he would not be suggesting that the city set aside the $1.26 million Lewis has suggested might be needed for 2006. But he hopes to come up with a figure the city would need this year by Thursday, in anticipation of voter approval.

“For every intended consequence, there are five unintended consequences,” Wynn said.

Agency shortfall $3.6 million since October

Capital Metro is likely to cut its current budget by at least 6 percent because of faltering sales tax revenues.

Last week, interim Chief Financial Officer Pam Laine presented sales tax revenue figures to the Finance/Planning subcommittee of the Capital Metro board. The tallies show that Capital Metro has seen a $3.6 million shortfall since the fiscal year began in October, which the most recent tax revenue numbers released by the state on Friday did nothing to alleviate. The numbers are 10 percent below those at the same time last year.

Laine predicted sales tax revenues could be down $5.7 million by the end of the year if the next eight months see only modest growth. That $5.7 million total equates nicely to 5.7 percent of the total $100 million Capital Metro budget.

“My projection is that, with a little growth, we’re looking at $5.7 million,” said Laine outside the meeting. “Our department heads have been told to look at their budgets and cut some expenses. The most obvious cuts would be fuel, labor and cutting absenteeism.”

Cap Metro staff members call it “increasing efficiencies,” as they intend to maintain the current level of services at the transit agency. But to generate almost $6 million will certainly require looking at some “big ticket items,” Laine told the committee. No cuts are official yet, but Interim General Manager Fred Gillam said every day delayed makes it more difficult for Capital Metro to respond.

“We’ve got to do something sooner rather than later, trying to make it as painless as possible,” Gilliam told the board, adding that the goal was minimize the impact on ridership and services.

The agency is still committed to moving forward with service improvements, Gilliam added. Capital Metro’s job is to look for the most responsible way to provide services “for the most economical cost.” The exact cuts should be clarified in the coming weeks, Laine said.

Capital Metro hasn’t suffered thus far because of fuel costs, however. Steve Herrera, manager of Capital Metro’s maintenance department, reported that the agency was still under budget despite the recent spike in fuel prices. The price drop that occurred after September 11th provided the agency with the savings necessary to handle the recent price increases.

With city share, budget amendment means extra million for organizations

County Commissioners last week approved a budget amendment to contribute an additional $500,000 to four Travis County social service agencies.

The contribution, combined with the city’s matching funds, will send an extra $1 million to Any Baby Can, AIDS Services of Austin, Caritas of Austin and Meals on Wheels and More. The increases to each contract are $80,000 for Any Baby Can, which will serve an extra 96 households; $70,000 to AIDS Services of Austin, to help an additional 84 clients; $620,000 to Caritas of Austin, to reach another 744 households; and $230,000 to Meals on Wheels, for service to 276 more elderly residents.

County Commissioners approved drawing $335,000 from the Economic Downtown Reserve Fund. The remaining $165,000 will be covered in the fiscal year 03 budget.

Performance measures for the funding, according to the small print in the budget amendment, will be the number of additional unduplicated clients who receive food, mortgage and utility assistance from the four social service agencies.

The Community Action Network has committed itself to raising a further $500,000 from the private sector.

SOS says Bradley owes FDIC $67 million . . . Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, just had to talk about developer Gary Bradley on tax day, bringing up the judgment the FDIC got against Bradley and his partner for $38.6 million on unpaid loans from the Gibraltar Savings Association. Gibraltar was one of the infamous bank failures of the era and Bradley was not the only borrower who didn’t repay his loan. However, Bunch says the FDIC won’t collect the original amount, or the interest, now standing at about $67 million. They won’t say why either, so he has sent a letter to US Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who still represents a good portion of Travis County, asking that Doggett demand the answers Bunch can’t get . . . New endorsements . . . Place 1 candidate Kirk Mitchell picked up some impressive endorsements this weekend, including the Sierra Club, which in previous races had supported Council Member Daryl Slusher. Mitchell, who has been chairman of the board of the Save Our Springs Alliance, also received support from the Political Action Committee of Austin Neighborhoods Together (ANT PAC) and from the Travis County Green Party . . . In other races . . . Sierra Club and the ANT PAC endorsed Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Beverly Griffith . . . Attack emails . . . City Council candidate Betty Dunkerley has found a cheaper way to attack incumbent Council Member Beverly Griffith than radio or TV spots. Whether it will be as effective is another question. However, In Fact Daily received a professionally rendered email that looks remarkably like a campaign brochure, including the tag line (Pol. Adv. By Betty Dunkerley Campaign, etc.). The ad says, “Griffith has proposed revisiting a $25 million affordable housing bond program, but Beverly Griffith fails to mention that even with voter approval, funds from the bonds would not be available for use for 5 years.” Dunkerley has touted her own affordable housing plan, which the viewer can see by going to her web site from the ad. Vertical Response, who provided the software, charges only $15 for 1,000 emails, according to the company web site . . . Mayor backs reading together . . . Mayor Gus Garcia yesterday announced the first Mayor’s Book Club selection. Bless me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, recipient of the 2001 National Medal of Arts Award, will be available at all Austin Public Library locations, as well as local bookstores. In partnership with the UT Humanities Institute, city libraries will hold discussion groups and programs starting this fall. The book is a coming of age story set in the Southwest, first published in 1972 . . . RECA candidates luncheon today . . . If you made a reservation, remember that the Chamber of Commerce/Real Estate Council of Austin is hearing from all the City Council candidates at their joint luncheon today at the Four Seasons. It could be fun.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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