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Wynn calls jobs, transportation top priorities

Monday, February 6, 2006 by

Mayor kicks off re-election campaign with pledge to guide city’s growth

Austin Mayor Will Wynn set job growth and transportation as two of his top priorities for a second term at his official campaign kick-off party Friday night. “In my second term, we’re going to create 30,000 net new jobs and we’re going to keep our tax rate the lowest tax rate of any major city in Texas,” he vowed to an enthusiastic crowd at the Broken Spoke in South Austin.

The Mayor started with a review of some of the highlights of his first term in office, including putting more emphasis on renewable energy through Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program, the city’s support of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, and the adoption of the Clean Air Action Plan to help reduce the amount of ozone in Central Texas.

For his second term, Wynn said his priorities would center around shaping Austin’s growth, saying the choice is not whether the city grows, but how it grows. “In my opinion, it would be about as useful to oppose gravity.”

“We need to continue to change how we grow, we need to preserve more open space, and we need to concentrate the growth that we’re going to have where we want it,” he said. He said the recommendations of Envision Central Texas should play a key role in decisions on dealing with the influx of new residents. “I’ll say it again, it’s not up to us if we grow, but it’s up to us how to grow.”

Wynn predicted that mass transit would play a key role in guiding that growth and alleviating the city’s traffic problems. “To solve our traffic crisis we have to do three things: we have to better utilize our existing roadway network, we have to fundamentally have effective mass transit in this region, and we’ve got to dramatically change our land use patterns,” he said. “It is difficult to do, and I’ve worked hard on all three…and I refuse to dive under the table when I’m offered a difficult choice.”

After reminding the crowd of his support for Capital Metro’s commuter rail plan, he pledged to push for another rail election this fall. “I am pushing Capital Metro for a component, incremental piece of a rail line election in November,” he explained to In Fact Daily, “because I think that effective mass transit is clearly a part of the answer for our ongoing growth and traffic crisis that we have in this community. So I think there are some obvious things we can do incrementally in an affordable way to actually change how we grow.”

Supporters of Capital Metro’s rail proposal had pushed for an extension of the existing “Red Line” to the neighborhoods surrounding the Mueller redevelopment area or west through downtown to the old Seaholm Power Plant, which is also slated for re-development. Seaholm is also in close proximity to the rail line which could be used for passenger service as part of the Austin-San Antonio Inter-Municipal Rail District.

On the another major city election possibly facing voters this year, the Mayor said he would campaign hard in support of the city’s bond package, but stopped short of saying whether that would be on the ballot in May or November. He also vowed to follow through on the recommendations stemming from the city’s African-American quality of life survey and to work with APD to make reducing the number of traffic fatalities in the city a higher priority.

"It was a great crowd, a great speech, there was very good energy in the room," said Mark Nathan, a former aide to Wynn, manager of his first mayoral campaign, and consultant to his re-election effort. "It was an exciting way for everybody to kick into high gear for 100 straight days of campaigning. We're going to work our tails off to win big in May."

More than 400 people attended the campaign kick-off party, including environmentalists George Cofer, Marguerite Jones and Mary Ann Neely. Former Mayor Bruce Todd, just released from the hospital following his bicycle accident last year, put in an appearance; as did several current elected officials such as State Reps. Mark Strama and Mike Krusee. Others spotted in the crowd included former Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, BSEACD Board Member Jack Goodman and former Council Members Jackie Goodman, Brigid Shea and Robert Barnstone.

Also seen were the chairs of the Planning Commission and the Environmental Board, Chris Riley and Dave Anderson. All of the candidates for Place 2 and Place 6 on the City Council attended, taking the opportunity to meet with potential voters and hand out campaign literature. Wynn is facing Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas in the May 13 election (see In Fact Daily, November 29, 2005), along with Bridgette Wise and frequent candidate Jennifer Gale.

Council split over timing of bond vote

Some say May is too soon, but others say November may be too late

The Austin City Council received the recommendations of the Citizens Bond Advisory Commission on Thursday, reviewing some of the specifics of the $614 million dollar proposal (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 10, 2006) and discussing options for eliminating some projects in an effort to bring the total amount down closer to $500 million.

But the Council did not make any decisions about when to put the package on the ballot for voter approval, and the discussion revealed a sharp divide between those who want to see the proposal be part of the city elections in May and those who would rather wait until the November general election.

Council Member Brewster McCracken was adamant that the Council did not have enough time to properly consider all aspects of the proposal before the March 9 deadline for setting the May ballot.

“The size of the general fund budget is around $500 million and we are proposing $614 million dollars. That suggests to me that we should treat the bond election with the same amount of depth and seriousness and completeness that we treat the similarly-sized general fund budget,” he said. “I do not think that from a scheduling standpoint we are prepared to devote the same level of attention and seriousness to the $614 million proposal over the next three meetings that we devote to the city budget.”

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas was also skeptical that the Council could properly craft a bond package in less than five weeks while still maintaining normal operations. “Personally, I just don’t see how I can do it and still have my daily one-on-one meetings with people in the community,” he said. He also warned against rushing to the ballot box with a proposal without building community support. “The work that this committee has done over the past eight to ten months, I don’t want it to be in vain,” he said. “I want this to be successful. I want to make sure that we do it right, and everyone who is involved knows what’s going on.”

But Council Member Lee Leffingwell said the work of the Bond Election Advisory Committee would help the Council and the community prepare for a May election. “We have eight months of groundwork by the citizens committee already behind us on this, and intuitively I think that gives us a head start. I think it would be better to address these issues now while the study is still fresh, rather than over the summer…then have to think about the bond issue as we’re thinking about the general budget. We’ll find ourselves in the same time crunch in November as we’re in now,” he said. “I think the citizens of Austin are kind of expecting us to put this on the ballot in May, and I think we ought to make every effort to do it.”

Leffingwell was joined by Council Member Raul Alvarez, who expressed a preference for a May election, and Mayor Will Wynn, who urged the Council to keep the option of a May election on the table as members begin posing detailed questions about the bond proposal to the staff of the Budget Office.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley proposed a schedule that she described as the “best of both worlds”. Instead of rushing to craft the proposal and adopt the ballot language by March 9, she suggested having most of the Council debate on the issue in April and May, then setting the ballot in early June for the November general election. That would make sure all current Council Members are involved in the process, but still give the Council more time to consider the size of the proposal and the various projects involved.

“It takes a long time to gear up both financially and citizen volunteer-wise to support a bond campaign,” she said. “We will probably have other items on the May ballot that may or may not distract some of our people who would be working on the bond campaign. Let’s go ahead and lock this down as soon as possible and set it for a November time frame.”

Dunkerley also warned the Council that the size of the bond proposal may need to be trimmed from the $614 million figure recommended by the committee. “From a lot of experience, I know that there is no way we can sell $600 million worth of bonds in six years and not throw all of our bond rating ratios totally out of kilter,” she said, repeating concerns about the city’s bond rating that she had previously raised last year (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 17 2005). She estimated the city could safely issue $500 million in bonds over a six year period, but that issuing $600 million in bonds would require staggering the bonds over an eight year period.

While some members of the Bond Election Advisory Committee pushed the Council to set a May election date, citing the serious need for many of the projects that would be financed by the bond package, City Manager Toby Futrell said that an early election date would not accelerate the timing of those major infrastructure and construction projects.

“Regardless of May or November, these bonds will not be sold until 2007,” she explained. “The date of the election is not moving up the date of these projects. Whether you do the election in May or November, these bonds are scheduled to be sold in the beginning of 2007.”

The discussion ended with no consensus on an election date, meaning the Council will revisit the issue next week. The City Manager will bring back a proposed timetable for public input, should the Council choose to aim for putting the item on the ballot this spring, along with a timetable for the process used in the 1998 bond election for comparison.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Todd emerges from rehab . . . Former Mayor Bruce Todd left St. David’s Rehab Center Friday and lost no time in re-entering the world of politics and business. Todd, sporting a crew-cut, greeted friends as he was wheeled through the crowd at Mayor Will Wynn’s campaign kickoff Friday afternoon. The former Mayor was injured in a bicycle accident on November 27 and suffered broken bones and a head injury. He was in Brackenridge Hospital for several weeks, followed by in-patient rehab St. David’s. “I am one lucky man and am so thankful to be well enough to go home after so many weeks recovering from my accident.” he said in a written statement . . . City Council forum Tuesday . . . A forum for candidates for candidates for Place 2 and Place 6 on the Austin City Council is planned tomorrow. It is sponsored by the Austin Hotel & Lodging Association, the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, Small Business Group, Austin Police Associatio n,

BOMA-Austin, and AFSCME 1624. Candidates expected to attend include: Mike Martinez, Eliza May, Hector Uribe in the Place 2 race; and Sheryl Cole, Dewayne Lofton, Darrell Pierce in Place 6. The forum is planned at 11:30am at 219west, 219 West Fourth St. . . . Mayor honors aide . . . Mayor Wynn has designated February 18 as Veronica Briseño and Salvador Lara Day, in honor of their upcoming marriage. Briseño has been an aide to Council Member Raul Alvarez since he took office in 2000. Veronica is a Texas Ex, and Salvador is an Aggie, but we’ve seen that sometimes these mixed marriages work out. We wish the best of luck to both of them . . . Meetings . . . The Art in Public Places Pane l meets at 6pm in Room 2016 at City Hall . . . The Music Commission meets at 6pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . Rainwater capture . . . The Austin Water Utility Water Conservation Program assists residents in reducing their water use by providing two programs to support the installation of rainwater collection systems. First is the Rainbarrel program, which furnishes specially designed 75-gallon containers, and second is the Rebate Program that helps pay for larger system installations. City officials encourage the capture of rainwater run-off for use on gardens, grass, shrubs and trees in-between storm events. The anticipated dryer-than-normal season ahead makes it very important to fully utilize any rain that is received. The next rainbarrel distribution will be 9am – noon on Saturday, February 11 at 6014 TechniCenter Drive (one stoplight south of MLK Blvd. on US 183). Rain barrels are provided at or below cost as a public service. Additional information on rain barrels and larger collection systems can be found at www.cityofaustin.org/watercon . . . Dems seek Election Judges . . . The Travis County Democratic Party needs party members to serve as election judges, alternate judges, and clerks to work at polling locations all across Travis County on Election Day. The pay is $7 per hour for work on March 7 as well as for the training you would also need to attend prior to the primary. The training is approximately 3-4 hours long and will be offered on various days and times throughout the week. If you are interested, call 477-7500 or e-mail garry@traviscountydemocrats.org.

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