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Does same sex marriage vote signal start of Mayor's race?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 by

Thomas supports Proposition 2, Wynn opposes along with most local officials

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas thought he heard the first round fired in the 2006 Mayoral race when told of Mayor Will Wynn’s comments in opposition to Proposition 2. Prop 2 would place a ban on same-sex marriage in the Texas Constitution. Thomas is the only member of the Council to favor the amendment.

“I just made it clear that I don’t have anything against anyone, but I don’t believe in same sex marriage,” said Thomas. “I'm in favor of the proposition.” Thomas, who was attending a church convention in Lubbock Monday, told In Fact Daily, “We are starting the campaign early.”

Thomas and Wynn are the only candidates for the top spot at City Hall so far—although they are required by city election regulations to refrain from announcing until November. Contenders are already making their intentions known for the Place 6 seat currently held by Thomas. Dewayne Lofton recently told a town hall meeting held by the NAACP he planned to run for the seat. Other all but announced Place 6 candidates are Sheryl Cole and Darrell Pierce. Thomas could not serve a third term in Place 6 without going through the arduous process of collecting an estimated 25,000 signatures of Austin voters.

Republican Commissioner Gerald Daugherty is the only member of the Travis County Commissioner who did not to indicate his opposition to Prop 2, but he did not return phone calls for comment.

All of the Democratic members of the Travis County delegation to the Texas Legislature also signed on to oppose Proposition 2. At a news conference outside City Hall Monday morning organized by No Nonsense in November, State Rep. Elliott Naishtat criticized the amendment as unnecessary and mean-spirited. “In Texas, it is against the law for gay people to marry. That is the law in this state,” he said. “So what is this all about? This is all about discrimination and hatred. It’ll be the first time we’ve gone back and put this type of language in our Constitution that singles out a group of people to hate and to discriminate against.” State Reps. Dawnna Dukes, Mark Strama, and Eddie Rodriguez are also opposing the measure, as is State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos.

Wynn said he would be opposing the proposition on constitutional grounds. “I happen to respect and believe in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment prevents us from making laws that codify religious values,” he said. “I understand full well that there are very well-intentioned people that for religious reasons oppose gay marriage. And I respect the First Amendment right of those citizens to speak their minds about their opinions and of course to practice their religion. I don’t, however, want their opinions and thoughts about religion put into law. In my opinion it’s not an accident that the very same amendment to the Constitution that guarantees free speech also forbids laws regarding the establishment of religion.”

Opponents of Proposition 2 are looking to a strong voter turnout on election day in Travis County to help defeat the measure at the polls, since voter turnout statewide in constitutional amendment elections is traditionally low. “The values of this county and this city are tolerance…we’re not going to tolerate an un-necessary constitutional amendment to basically deny people’s basic human rights,” said Rep. Rodriguez. “That’s just not going to fly in Travis County.”

Along with four of the five members of the Travis County Commissioners Court, other Travis County elected officials opposing Proposition 2 include Sheriff Greg Hamilton, Constable Maria Canchola, Constable Bruce Elfant, District Clerk Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza, Tax Assessor-Collector Clerk Nelda Wells Spears, County Treasurer Dolores Ortega-Carter, and County Attorney David Escamilla.

More information about Proposition 2 can be found in the Voters Guide published by the League of Women Voters, available on-line at http://www.leaguewv.austin.tx.us. The League is a non-partisan group which does not endorse candidates or propositions.

Mass transit needs, funds gap continues to widen

Much of new funding already committed

The reauthorization of the federal Transportation Act provides a significant increase in funding for transit systems, but much of the money for new rail line construction is already earmarked for projects that are either under construction or ready to start, a funding analyst said Monday while speaking at a San Francisco conference on transportation finance.

The $286 billion highway and transit bill, passed in August, is known as SAFETEA-LU, which stands for Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users. Scott Trommer, a senior analyst with Fitch Ratings, noted that the gap between funding and needs continues to grow in mass transit.

Markets like Dallas, Houston, Denver and Charlotte have approved new systems and the expansion of systems. New York, Chicago and San Francisco are proposing a significant investment to revamp existing infrastructure. Managing transit systems, which often exist only with the help of local and federal subsidies, is growing more difficult, Trommer told an audience at the Bond Buyers Sixth Annual Transportation Finance Conference.

“Transit is playing an increasing role in both traditional markets and the Sunbelt cities,” Trommer said. “There is a significant backlog of capital needs and operating pressures, and the strategies to address these pressures is evolving.”

A total of $45.3 billion is set aside for transit projects for the next five years under SAFETEA-LU, Trommer said. That’s a 46 percent increase over the last reauthorization of the Federal Highway Act. Of that total, $29.6 billion is set aside for core programs for system renewal. Another $7.4 billion is dedicated to the New Starts program, which underwrites the new rail projects in the transit pipeline.

The New Starts funding, in particular, is important to Central Texas. While Capital Metro had declared that the Austin commuter rail line is self-funding, the Austin-San Antonio Commuter Rail District is depending on New Starts funding to jump-start the commuter rail line between Georgetown and San Antonio, which will connect to the Capital Metro line.

Already, $5 billion of New Starts funding is committed to existing projects, Trommer said. That leaves only $2.4 billion for new projects over the next five years. An estimated 32 new rail projects, totaling $36.5 billion, are in the pipeline for funding. Those projects are seeking a total of $15 billion in federal subsidies.

Overall capital funding grew to $12.8 billion in 2003. About 80 percent of that funding, however, is being dedicated to the maintenance of current assets, Trommer said. To address the issue, voters are approving taxing and bond measures like they never have in the past.

Last year, voters approved over $40 billion in tax and bond measures, from San Francisco and Denver to Phoenix and Austin. New York State alone approved $21.1 billion for a four-year capital improvement program of the New York transit system.

External pressures are pushing the timeline on transit projects. The price of commodities and right-of-way acquisition continue to increase while the project development process is becoming more complicated in many states. In most transit markets, the rising cost of fuel is a burden but not one that has constrained operations, unless the transit agency is working on a narrow profit margin. In St. Louis, the transit agency was forced to raise fares. Fuel costs usually represent about 5 percent of a transit agency’s budget.

Transit agencies typically have funded projects on a pay-as-you-go basis, but as needs expand, so do the methods of financing, Trommer said. Trommer predicts pay-as-you-go, secured by liens against dedicated taxes, will remain the main source of expansion funds, but he also noted that joint development of transit properties and public-private partnerships are being used by transit authorities to address financial constraints.

Democrat still has some criticism for Commissioners Court

After nearly two years of thought on the matter, former Council Member Daryl Slusher has announced that he will not be a candidate for Travis County Judge. Slusher released a written statement Monday citing what he perceives as shortcomings in governance of the county, but not specifically criticizing incumbent Democratic Judge Sam Biscoe.

“This has been a very tough decision to make because there are strong arguments in both directions,” Slusher wrote. “My primary consideration in trying to reach a decision has been determining how I can best continue to contribute to this community at this time. There are also of course personal considerations. I believe that county government needs more serious attention than any other large governmental body in the region.”

But the incumbents did not escape Slusher’s sharp pen. “Travis County has the highest tax rate of any urban county, but the services don’t seem to be superior or in some cases as good as other counties,” he wrote. Then he cited what he perceives as “a lack of cooperation and communication with other governments,” no doubt a spillover from his nine years on the City Council. Some commissioners criticized the City of Austin for a lack of cooperation when the Travis County Hospital District emerged from what was essentially a merger of services.

He also criticized county leadership for its role in the toll road plan and lack “of focus on the environmental protection, although this has improved somewhat in recent months.” Slusher explained in his statement that he did not want to wage a potentially divisive fight within the Democratic Party. He added, “And, it seems to me that as certain issues have gotten more public attention, the leadership have become more active.”

Slusher has been working on a book and also has a temporary, part-time position with Austin Energy. He served on the City Council for nine years before stepping down in June.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Smoking case continues . . . The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the City of Austin over the smoking ban took advantage of Federal District Judge Sam Sparks invitation to submit additional briefs in the case Monday. Plaintiffs’ attorney Marc Levin wrote a 25-page letter addressing some of the jurisdictional issues raised by the court during last week's hearing, along with petitions to add The Yellow Rose as a plaintiff. In a separate motion, the owner of Click's Billiards sought to intervene in the case as plaintiffs. Representatives of both businesses were questioned during the hearing about their efforts to enforce the smoking ban and their dealings with city inspectors. A ruling could come as early as this week . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. On the agenda is a zoning request for the Spring Condominium project . . . The Mexican American Cultural Center Advisory Board meets at 6pm at the Parks and Recreation Department, 200 South Lamar . . . The Resource Management Commission will meet at 6:30pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . Travis County Commissioners meet at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W.11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am at in the Pct 3 Justice of the Peace 3 Courtroom, 301 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown . . . Big Easy bands at ABIA . . . Beginning this week, New Orleans musicians will be featured on Thursdays from 1-3 p.m. at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The new performances are presented to help the many musicians who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The bands from the Big Easy were paid for by the formation of Musicians Helping Musicians. Starting with Marcel Richardson on Thursday, the series is scheduled to present various New Orleans artists through January 12 . . . Non-profits call to action . . . The Basic Needs Coalition of Central Texas (BNCCT) and the Community Action Network (CAN) are holding a news conference today to discuss the efforts of local area non-profits serving more than 10,000 evacuees from both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Susan Eason, Executive Director at the Arc of the Capital Area, and Chair of the Basic Needs Coalition, will make a call to action to the community for its ongoing support as local non-profits work to address basic needs issues for these evacuees on a long-term basis. The conference is at 9:30am at the Meals on Wheels and More Kitchen, 3227 E. Fifth St. For more information, go to http://www.basicneeds-ctx.org . . . Voters Guide available . . . The League of Women Voters' new edition of its popular Voters Guide, prepared for the November 8 Constitutional Amendment Election, is now available at all public and university libraries throughout Austin and Travis County. It can also be viewed or downloaded along with the pros and cons of the 3 Travis County Bond Issues from the League's website: http://www.leaguewv.austin.tx.us. Spanish language versions are available at select libraries or by calling the League office at 451-6710. Early voting starts next Monday, October 24 and ends November 4. .

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