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Get Austin Moving PAC kicks off effort to pass 2010 Transportation Bonds

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Seems like everyone gripes about the transportations problems in Austin, but now some familiar names are lining up to try and do something about it.


The Get Austin Moving political action committee opened its campaign Monday to help pass a $90 million transportation bond election in November. At a news conference at City Hall Plaza, the group offered the podium to Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Austin Chamber of Commerce Board Member Terry Mitchell, and Urban Transportation Commission and 2010 Bond Citizen Task Force Member Boone Blocker.


Mitchell and Blocker are also on a list of 36 recognizable Austin names that Get Austin Moving announced it had recruited for its steering committee. Others include former CAMPO head Joe Cantalupo, former Mayor Gus Garcia, developer Perry Lorenz, current Capital Metro Board Member Beverly Silas, and former Austin Council Member Brigid Shea.


Groups endorsing the bond proposal include the Sierra Club Austin Regional Group, Clean Water Action, the Trail Foundation, the League of Bicycling Voters, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


However, not everyone in Austin is lining up behind what will appear on the ballot as Proposition 1. Real Estate Council of Austin Executive Director Janice Cartwright told In Fact Daily that the board of that group had voted to oppose the measure.


In his remarks, Leffingwell cited several reasons that voters should approve Proposition 1. He said that the initiative would “provide immediate relief,” noting that every specific project would start construction within 24 months of its passage. The economy, he added, was at a point where Austin could work with lower construction costs. “That won’t last forever and we should take advantage of it while we can,” he said.


Leffingwell also said that about 15 percent of the bond package would go toward the design and engineering of projects that aren’t yet ready for construction. That, he said, “will put us in a stronger position to secure more state and federal transportation funds over the next few years to build these projects.”


He further argued that “this bond proposal sets a new standard for specificity.” He pointed out that “unlike Austin’s previous transportation bond proposals…every single project in this proposal is specifically identified.”


Finally, he pointed out that the 2010 bond election would not result in a tax increase.


Still, Austinites could be looking at as many as four bond elections over the next four years. Leffingwell agreed that was a possibility. “I think . . . we do have to take advantage of this current environment where prices are lower to build things that we need,” he said. “That said, we’re being judicious about it at the city—and I’m sure other government organizations will be also—to make sure that the tax impact is not significant. For example, on this bond package, the tax impact is going to be zero.


“We are very much aware of that in our planning for these proposals,” he continued, “and I hope that other groups will be as well.”   


The Austin Independent School District and Travis County have each indicated that they may seek bond approval in the near future. The City of Austin is looking at a major bond initiative in 2012 that would include money for an urban rail project.


The 2010 Austin transportation bond package would feature funds for area road, sidewalk, and bicycle improvements. Highlights include improvements to the “Y” at Oak Hill, a boardwalk along Lady Bird Lake, and a reconstruction of Third Street (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 6, 2010).


“I think voters will vote on this bond based on its merits alone,” Get Austin Moving treasurer Ted Siff said. “Obviously, there’s stuff in the future…(But) I think voters today–and through this November–will focus on this very reasonable, no new tax package.”


Siff also said that his group is making headway in raising funds. “It’s going great, we’re really encouraged,” he said. “We have a little bit less than a $100,000 budget…we’ve been fundraising for about 10 days and we have commitments for at least $20,000 of that $100,000.”


Cartwright said that RECA thought that “the projects (in the 2010 bond package) were good.” Still, she said, her group would oppose Proposition 1 “based on principle.”


“(Transportation director) Rob Spillar presented the bond package to the Council in two parts,” she said, noting that RECA would like to see the bond initiative on the ballot split “exactly the way (he) did.” In his presentation, she said, Spillar broke the proposed improvements down into road and multi-modal projects.


Cartwright added that the group was further concerned with the fact that the city would be borrowing money “in these times of economic stress” to address projects that it felt weren’t critical. “The bond doesn’t do enough to promote immediate vehicular traffic relief,” she said.


However, Cartwright said she did not know whether RECA might form its own group to oppose the bond initiative.

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