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Dean wows local Democrats

Tuesday, August 26, 2003 by

Presidential candidate criticizes Bush on Iraq war, economy

Democratic Presidential contender Howard Dean made yet another swing through Austin Tuesday night with a whistle-stop rally at the Ruta Maya Coffee House on South Congress. Hundreds of Democratic and Green Party members attended the rally and fundraiser to hear Dean talk about jobs, health care, foreign policy and the future of the Democratic Party . It was obvious from the enthusiastic crowd that Dean, touted as the most liberal of the Democrats seeking their party’s nomination, has found a core group of supporters in Austin.

“I know that you all read in the papers what a liberal, Birkenstock governor I am,” Dean joked with the crowd. One audience member shouted back, “You’re too conservative for us!” prompting a wave of laughter and applause.

It was Dean’s third visit in as many months to the most liberal city in Texas, a place with enough progressives to guarantee Dean an enthusiastic response to his statement that President Bush is “all hat and no cattle.” About 600 people paid $125 apiece to hear Dean’s speech. He attacked Bush on both domestic and foreign policy, and the crowd was delighted to hear Dean say he was the only leading Democratic candidate who did not support the war in Iraq. That drew big applause. Dean said he supported the first Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan, but he would never support the war in Iraq.

“Let me tell you something,” said Dean from the podium. “When I’m Commander-in-Chief of the US military, I will be willing to send our soldiers anywhere in the world in order to protect us, but I will never send our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters without telling you why I’m sending them there.”

That drew some of the strongest applause of the evening. Dean also hit some of the traditional Democratic themes: health insurance for the poor and elderly, early social service intervention for at-risk families, renewable energy rather than Alaskan drilling and an agenda that included a good education for all children, regardless of where they live.

Some Democratic Party members have expressed concerns that Dean, while energizing the liberal wing of their organization, would not prove to be a viable candidate should he win the nomination. While addressing the crowd, Dean stressed his liberal credentials and warned against compromising the party’s values in an attempt to combat Bush’s popularity. “The Democrats in Congress decided we’d beat the President by being a little like him,” he said. “They figure we can beat Bush by being ‘Bush Lite’! Here’s what I think: I think the way to beat George Bush is to stand up and be proud of who we are as Democrats and give the 50 percent of Americans who don’t vote a reason to vote.”

Afterwards, to a gathering of reporters outside his campaign bus, Dean sounded a slightly less liberal note. “I balance budgets; I have eight consecutive A’s from the National Rifle Association,” he said. “If that makes me a liberal, we’ve gone awfully far right in this country. I’m just a Democrat from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, which means I’m proud to be a Democrat. I think we ought to have a few people around here proud to be Democrats again.”

Several prominent local democrats were in the audience at Ruta Maya, including State Representatives Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez . Dean praised their counterparts in the Texas Senate for their ongoing battle against redistricting. “I’m proud of those people over in New Mexico standing up for the Democratic Party against this ridiculous nonsense of trying to steal an election,” he told reporters. “They weren’t satisfied with stealing the election in Florida, now they’ve got to steal the election in Texas. I don’t think we ought to put up with that either, and I think those State Senators deserve a lot of praise from the people of Texas for standing up to this Governor.”

Dean took time to pose for pictures with many of his supporters before boarding a bus to San Antonio. Campaign officials estimate turnout in that city at more than 900 people. The stops in the two Texas cities were the third and fourth on Dean’s three-day, nine-city “Sleepless Summer Tour.”

Cap Metro budget shows small revisions

Union gets 4 percent raise; other employees 2.5 percent

Capital Metro will likely turn to the transit agency’s reserve fund for a one-time infusion of $5.5 million to help with the FY 2003-4 budget. Like most other taxing jurisdictions, Capital Metro has experienced a decline in sales tax revenue. Projections for the FY 2003-04 call for a slight increase of 2 percent. This is the same figure being used in the City of Austin’s budget projections.

As part of its overall financial strategy, said Chief Financial Officer Cynthia Hernandez, the board had established a goal of limiting the amount of sales tax revenue devoted to the regular operations and maintenance budget. Meeting that target of only using 75 percent of sales tax revenues could be achieved by taking $5.5 million from the operating reserve fund. Dipping into that fund, said Hernandez, is an appropriate use of the rainy day account. “It’s a short-term tool that allows us not to cut services,” Hernandez said. Board Chairman Lee Walker agreed that the long slump in sales taxes justified using the $5.5 million. “I think the operating reserves that we have set up allowed us to smooth the cycles,” he said. “We were able to do this because of the planning done over the past four or five years.”

The transit agency is predicting a seven percent overall increase in passenger traffic. While ridership on the existing “fixed route” service is expected to decline slightly, the agency anticipates making up those riders in other areas such as service for UT, special events and in the Special Transit Services for the disabled. Scaling back on those services had been considered as one way of saving money since Capital Metro goes above and beyond the federal requirements in that area. But Austin City Council Member Danny Thomas, who serves on the board’s Finance Committee, was opposed to that idea. “We are known in the state and nationally for our STS services,” he said. Board Chairman Lee Walker agreed that the STS routes were a necessity. “We’ve listened to our clients for many, many years,” he said. “This is not a time for the safety net to disappear.”

Revenue from passenger fares is anticipated to account for only 2.6 percent of the transit agency’s revenue next year, while sales taxes are expected to make up 77 percent. Overall revenues are projected at $135.3 million while expenses are projected at $114.7 million. The budget includes a provision for a 15 percent hike in healthcare costs. Unionized employees, such as bus drivers, will receive a 4-percent pay hike, while non-union staff will receive a 2.5 percent raise. Capital Metro will hold a public hearing on the budget on September 17 before taking a vote on September 22.

Capital Metro studying rapid transit service

The redeveloped 700-acre Mueller Municipal Airport site would be one stop on two rapid bus transit lines being studied by Capital Metro.

Rob Smith, director of strategic planning for Capital Metro, made a presentation of the agency’s study of rapid bus service at yesterday’s board meeting. If all goes well, the agency would like to implement two rapid bus service lines: one along a North Lamar/South Congress route and the other from the University of Texas past Mueller to Northeast Austin.

Rapid bus service, already used in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and Oakland, represents high-speed routes with fewer stops than regular local service. The service, which takes advantage of dedicated bus lanes and synchronized traffic lights, is often considered an interim step between local bus service and other types of transportation.

“Rapid bus service is an expansion of our limited service,” said CEO Fred Gilliam after yesterday’s board meeting. “What it will mean is more frequent service and better amenities. It’s a much faster trip.”

Smith and a team from Capital Metro visited rapid bus service in Los Angeles and Oakland. Rapid bus service typically operates on 10- to 15-minute intervals between buses. Buses run on an “as needed” basis, with kiosks at the stops telling the passengers when the next bus will arrive. Technology allows buses to communicate with traffic signals to increase speed. Passengers often pre-pay.

The two routes chosen for study by Capital Metro are the two with the highest potential for success, Gilliam said. Mueller, he said, after it is redeveloped, would be a “major activity center” for Austin, with access to Capital Metro’s rail line. The North Lamar/South Congress route would run between the two park-and-ride lots under construction and replace the limited stop service on Route 101.

The estimated cost of a rapid bus service line, based on service in Los Angeles, is $250,000 per mile, which includes loop detectors in the pavement to track buses. Along Wilshire Boulevard, the distinctive rapid transit buses run once a minute, and several routes feed into the city’s rail line. The city runs six rapid bus service lines.

The service is still in its infancy in Oakland. It started up in June with three initial lines. The buses still share stops with local service. Signals locating the bus to notify riders of arrival times are based on newer, more expensive, infrared technology.

Capital Metro is slated to meet with city staff today to continue discussions of potential services. Capital Metro staff continues to work on the proposed service within its planning and engineering departments. Smith said it could be as little as two years to implement the lines, if the proposal meets with the approval of the Capital Metro board.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bonding in New York . . . Mayor Will Wynn, Council Member Betty Dunkerley and City Manager Toby Futrell are visiting with bond rating firms on the City of Austin’s bonds. The annual visit should provide the three with some extra time to talk about budget issues. Dunkerley has said she would not like to see the city’s budget cut below the levels Futrell has proposed. Wynn has said he will be proposing more cuts, but has yet to reveal exactly where he thinks the cuts should occur. All three are due back at City Hall on Wednesday . . . ZAP meeting tonight . . . Neighbors of a proposed Wal-Mart at I-35 and Slaughter Lane—not the one over the Edwards Aquifer—have requested a postponement of the case, which is on tonight’s agenda at the Zoning and Platting Commission. Richard Suttle, who represents Wal-Mart, said a firm decision had not been made as to whether his client would agree to put off the case. However, the commission honors most first requests for postponement from either side . . . Helping out a fellow Democrat . . . Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken are inviting supporters to help former Mayor Kirk Watson retire the debt from his unsuccessful campaign for Attorney General. The party will be a Wynn’s home on October 8 . . . Another Democrat in need . . . Supporters of Senator Gonzalo Barrientos are invited to join his friends at La Zona Rosa on Thursday from 5:30-7:30pm to raise funds to offset the Senator’s expenses in New Mexico. The hotel bill for Barrientos and the other 10 Senators fighting redistricting is growing every day. For more information, call 448-4473 or email . . . Cap Metro actions . . . The Board of Directors of Capital Metro approved an amendment to its agreement with the University of Texas for operation of the UT Shuttle Service—one area of service that just keeps growing. Total revenue for the ninth year of the contract, from September 1 through August 31, 2004 is about $5.3 million, with 155,500 total hours of service projected. Former Mayor Pro Tem John Treviño, who works for UT, recused himself from the vote, which was unanimous . . . The board also voted to authorize execution of a contract with URS Corp. for engineering support services for one year, with four one-year options for up to $1.3 million. The company will be used by Cap Metro on an as-needed basis . . . CEO Fred Gilliam announced modest but encouraging use of Cap Metro’s new late-night bus service downtown. The transit agency saw 450 passengers use the service, 300 of them during Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights last week. Gilliam called it a “pretty good start” that will be enhanced by the transit agency’s marketing of the route . . . Year-to-date ridership numbers are up at Cap Metro, with a 3.2 percent year-to-date increase over July of last year. Part of that increase can be credited to a 12.5 percent increase in University of Texas ridership and an 18 percent increase in the use of special routes by disabled riders. On-time averages continue to hover around 90 percent . . . Heroes among us . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce will be handing out 10 awards Thursday night at its Third Annual Business Awards Banquet . The theme is “There are heroes among us” because those being honored “have performed heroically despite an economic slump,” the chamber says. The title sponsor for the event is Motorola . . .

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