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Partnership offers to save Austin Music Network

Thursday, April 29, 2004 by

24-hour showcase for musicians and other Austin artists, events

Constance Wodlinger, the managing partner of a group called Austin Music Partners, offered to rescue the Austin Music Network from possible demise yesterday by pledging, among other things, to pump $25 to $30 million into the station within the next five years. “The idea is to produce a 24-hour showcase of Austin music,” featuring singer-songwriters, promotion of local events and a much-expanded audience.

Wodlinger’s plan, which the city, for legal reasons, is not labeling a proposal, involves Time-Warner Cable and music investment bankers Daniels & Associates.

Wodlinger set forth her ideas for how to save AMN to two City Council members who sit on the Council Telecommunications Infrastructure Subcommittee, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez. Wodlinger said the partners’ working group has “agreements in principle” that would include taking over the network on October 1, when city funding runs out. She said they would commit to producing one music video per week for 50 weeks each year. The arrangement with Time-Warner would mean that the station could immediately jump from providing entertainment to 170,000 cable subscribers to 300,000.

Although Wodlinger said the concept is untested, the idea’s promoters believe other cities around the nation would want to have their own stations. That is one reason why the idea appeals to Time-Warner and the other investor.

“All is of course contingent on if the city elects to look at this option,” she said. Goodman has known some of Wodlinger’s proposition since February, and she said it was best to get the ideas out to the public now. She has consistently backed AMN and authored a resolution the Council approved directing City Manager Toby Futrell to seek out new funding sources for the network. (See In Fact Daily, March 5, 2004.)

In addition to featuring Austin musicians, Wodlinger said, she hopes to include news about the various events happening in the Capitol City, as well as locally-made films. In response to a question from Alvarez, Wodlinger promised, “It would not look anything like MTV. It would be a completely different animal. “From the standpoint of the music community . . . it has always has been a problem getting exposure for artists,” she said. The redesigned network would thus offer more opportunities for the big break.

There are parts of the offer to tempt those who have more interest in economic development than music and arts. Wodlinger said, “Austin has more lifestyle events than any city I’ve ever been in. There are weekends you would need a dozen trucks to cover the events going on in one weekend.” All of those events would get some play, luring a statewide audience to boost Austin tourism.

In addition, she said, “Hopefully you would be able to develop the situation where musicians could make good money—support their families and still live in Austin. We’ve talked to a lot of musicians. They’ve been very supportive. One of the deficits that exist here is that there is a great deal of music that has no video,” she said, but the new network would take care of that problem.

Wodlinger said the partnership, which includes Jack Stanfield, executive vice president of Fox Sports and Dan Wilhelm, president of Primedia Digital Video Productions of Dallas, intends to make a profit on the station. She said they would hope to reach the break-even point during the third year of operation. “That is the other thing that I would point out that if this all gets approved,” Wodlinger said “the city would receive its five percent of net revenues.”

She said it is important to have a decision on the matter in the near future since it usually takes six to nine months to set up a new station. It could be done in less time, however, she added.

Louis Meyers, the current general manager of AMN, is expected to make a different type of offer to the city for management of the network.

Tax compromise offered to cities, counties on education funding

House Select Committee expected to hear new proposal today

The House Select Committee on Public Education has tried to soften the blow of property tax and appraisal tax caps on cities and counties, but it’s still not likely to meet with the approval of local jurisdictions faced with significant cuts in revenue.

Rep. Fred Hill (R-Richardson), who sits on both the Appropriations Committee and the House Select Committee on Public Education, did his best to broker a deal between the cities, counties and the House over the past week. As Hill admitted, it’s not a compromise in the sense that everyone has signed off on it, but it is an attempt to find some middle ground.

Under Gov. Rick Perry’ s original proposal, the state would have set a 3-percent appraisal cap on residential property and a 3-percent cap on growth in local, city and county budgets. The Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Counties and the Conference of Urban Counties all came out strongly opposed to the proposal.

Under the Hill compromise, which is expected to appear in the bill presented to the full House Select Committee on School Finance this morning, the revenue cap is removed. The proposal would compromise on the growth in property appraisals by moving the cap down from the current 10 percent to 5 percent per year.

In his negotiations, Hill has tried to impress upon city and county leaders that it’s better to compromise on a proposal rather than give up all control of the situation. A significant number of city and county leaders are still so angry they don’t want to negotiate, Hill said.

Compromise or lose, says Hill

“There are those people out there like that, but I try to impress upon them that this is the legislative process. You can’t simply stand there and say, ‘I’m right. I’m not going to compromise,’ and open yourself up to whatever comes on the floor. Before you know it, the law has changed, right in front of your eyes.”

What makes Hill’s amendment ironic is that Hill, a former Richardson school board member, is no fan of tax caps. Voters elect their city council members and county commissioners the same way they elect their state lawmakers, Hill said. Setting artificial caps sends the message that the state wants to micromanage local government.

“It’s rather presumptuous on our part to say to cities and counties, ‘You’re not doing a good job,’” Hill said. “We’re saying either the people who were elected are not doing a good job or the people who were responsible for electing them are not doing a good job.”

But Hill’s job was to come up with a solution that would garner the most support on the floor, knowing that the Governor and many members of the Legislature support appraisal caps and property tax caps as a way to avoid appraisal creep.

In his negotiations, Hill came up with some provisions that would benefit counties. For example, the Hill amendment includes the seller’s disclosure of sales price on homes. The intention is to create a more accurate reflection of the actual market value of homes, which would lead to more accurate appraisals. As it currently stands, appraisal values are often based on the construction cost of homes or the advertised sales price of adjacent homes.

However, the sales price of a home would not be available to the public, Hill said. It would be private information available only to the appraisal district. The compromise has won the support of the real estate industry, which has been a staunch opponent of sales price disclosures.

Hill’s amendment, which will be part of House Bill 1, also includes a rollback provision. Under current law, a hearing is triggered when a proposed tax rate is 5 to 8 cents above the effective tax rate. At 8 cents or higher, voters can petition to call a rollback election. That petition must contain the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in the jurisdiction.

Under the compromise, voters can petition the jurisdiction when the rate is increased by more than 5 cents. Such a petition would require 5 percent of the voters in the last presidential election from within the jurisdiction, a significantly lower threshold for tax opponents.

Another plus for cities and counties is that the state promises no “unfunded mandates.” Hill said a city or county that finds an unfunded mandate can appeal to the Attorney General. If the Attorney General agrees the mandate is unfunded, the jurisdiction does not have to follow or pay for the mandate.

Other proposals

A competing proposal, by Rep. Carl Isett (R-Lubbock), was laid out before the Select Committee. That proposal would avoid the artificial caps on property value by setting property taxes against the total tax base in a jurisdiction. If the overall property values rise, then the effective property tax rate should go down, Isett said. The amendment also would trigger an automatic election when property values rose more than 3 percent.

In other news at the Capitol, Reps. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) and Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) have filed House Bill 46, which would restore cuts to CHIP and Medicaid. Coleman and Naishtat argue that an estimated $1.3 billion in additional funding found by Comptroller Carole Strayhorn should be applied to indigent health care.

Gov. Perry, however, has not indicated that he intends to expand the call of the session beyond school finance and property tax relief. Asked specifically whether he would include CHIPs in this special session, Perry said he intended to limit the session to education.

Early voting begins slowly . . . A total of 824 Travis County voters cast ballots yesterday, the first day of early voting. Evidently the most inclined to vote are in the Lakeway area, since 114 voters showed up at the Randall’s there to make their voices heard. That probably does not bode well for the hospital district since non-Austin voters would see a tax increase. The second-highest performing box yesterday was the Travis County courthouse, where 52 voters cast ballots . . . Homeless Center opens . . . Former Mayors Kirk Watson, Gus Garcia and Frank Cooksey joined Mayor Will Wynn Wednesday to cut the ribbon on the new Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. The facility will offer social services, a medical clinic and job counseling to help clients break the cycle of homelessness. “In a community that has so many real assets, today we open an asset for so many who have real needs,” said Watson. “So let’s rejoice and celebrate today, because tomorrow we get back to work to make sure we’re helping those in our community who are in need” . . . No Council meeting today . . . The Council will meet next week, however . . . Say Happy Birthday . . . Mayoral assistant Matt Curtis will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Saturday.

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