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Transportation bond backers, opponents detail finances

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 by Mark Richardson

(Editor’s Note: This report was changed to include information from a second finance report filed by the Get Austin Moving PAC on Oct. 25, which was inadvertently left out of the earlier version of the story.)


Proponents of the $90 million City of Austin Transportation Bond package have collected just over $102,000 for the Get Austin Moving PAC, with sizable donations coming in from engineering companies, trail and bicycling enthusiasts, and development attorneys.


Political Action Committees involved in the election were required to file expense reports on Oct. 1 and Oct. 25 with the city clerk. Election Day is Tuesday.


The package, Proposition 1 on the ballot, would fund about 70 road, pedestrian, and bicycle projects and is considered a prelude to a much larger transportation bond package planned for 2012.


The most prominent item in the package is the $14.4 million boardwalk, an elevated extension of the hike-and bike trail on Lady Bird Lake from near South Congress Avenue to about a half mile east of Interstate 35 on the south bank, where the rocky shoreline would make a trail impossible.


Those backing the package say that the city needs the projects to keep traffic flowing, particularly in the downtown area. However, critics complain that the bond program would spend too much on downtown and central Austin, ignoring other sections of the city and region.


Backing Proposition 1 is the Get Austin Moving PAC, which formed in late summer. Ted Siff, former director of the Austin Parks Foundation, is the group’s treasurer.


Expense reports filed on Oct. 1 and Oct. 25 with the city clerk show that Get Austin Moving has had donations and pledges from about 80 individuals and 72 organizations and corporations. The largest individual donor is Fred Robinette, who wrote a check for $10,000. Robinette is a Rollingwood resident and cycling enthusiast. Other contributors listed on the Oct.1 filing include developer Perry Lorenz, $1,000; Albert Stowell, $1,000; Bicycle Sport Shop owner Hill Abel, $500; Griffin Davis, $200; Planning Commission Chair David Sullivan, $100; former Mayor Gus Garcia, $100; Jeb Boyt, $100; John-Michael Cortez, $25; and Luke Metzger, $20.  Individuals donors noted in the Oct. 25 filing include Therese Baer, $2,500; entrepreneur and astronaut Richard Garriott, $2,500; Tom Stacy, $2,500; Arnold Miller, $2,500; Armbrust & Brown LLP, $1,500; Griffin Davis, $1,000; William Espy, $1,000; attorney John Joseph Jr., $750; attorney Nikelle Meade, $250; and Charlie Betts, $100.


Corporations and organizations gave generously to the Get Austin Moving PAC, with the Trail Foundation, a group dedicated to improving the Lady Bird Lake trail system, chipping in $15,000. Other large donations listed in the Oct. 1 report include Austin Metro Trails and Greenways, another group that promotes the trails,  $5,000; the Downtown Austin Alliance, $5,000; Dannenbaum Engineering, $5,000; Cirrus Logic, $5,000; Brown McCarroll LLC, $2,500; and PB Americas of New York City, $2,500. Large corporate and group donors listed in the Oct. 25 report include Cirrus Logic, $5,000; URS Corp., $5,000; Hill County Conservancy, $2,500; LAN, $2,000; AECOM Technology, $2,000; HNTB, Kansas City, $1,500; Texas Disposal Systems, $1,500; KBR, Houston, $1,000; Raymond Chant & Assoc., $1,000; CAS Engineering, $1,000; Hejl, Lee & Assoc., $1,000; and EncoTech Engineering, $1,000.


As of Monday’s filing, the Get Austin Moving PAC had $49,392 in the bank to spend before the election.


Two PACs list themselves as opposing Proposition 1: Sensible Transportation Solutions for Austin, or STSA PAC, and Engineers Affirming Sustainable Transportation, or EAST PAC. Both only filed a single financial statement, on Oct. 25.


STSA PAC, with Dominic Chavez as treasurer, is mainly backed by former Texas Monthly Publisher Mike Levy, who has donated about $31,000 of the group’s $42,000 war chest. Activist and Capital Metro rail opponent James Skaggs has donated another $10,000.


The group ran a full-page ad in the Oct. 17 Austin American-Statesman outlining its opposition to the bond package. In it, STSA PAC asserts that too much of the bond money is for central city/downtown projects, short-changing the rest of the city. In addition, it calls the ballot language “one long, deceptive sentence that’s gobbledygook.”


Despite that ad, STSA PAC lists no campaign expenditures or remaining funds on its expense form.


EAST PAC, which lists activist Don Zimmerman as its treasurer, is primarily funded by a $3,000 loan from the Coalition on Sustainable Transportation, or COST. Its other large donor is Skaggs, who donated $2,000. Skaggs, along with Zimmerman, is listed on the COST Executive Board.


After expenses, EAST PAC has about $3,500 left in its coffers.

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