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Leffingwell urges Austinites to cast ballots as early voting begins

Monday, October 22, 2012 by Michael Kanin

With today the first day of early voting for the Nov. 6 election, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell wants to make sure City of Austin voters are aware of the long list of key items on the tail-end of this year’s ballot that could significantly change the way local government works.


Importantly, Leffingwell said folks who vote a straight ticket for one party or another still need to look to the bottom of the ballot to decide on some crucial measures.


“Even if you vote a straight ticket . . . at the bottom of the ballot there’s a total of 19 propositions that will affect your life as much as anything on that ballot,” said Leffingwell on the eve of early voting, which runs through Nov. 2.


The mayor was especially interested in promoting Proposition 1 from Central Health, the Travis County health district, which appears on the ballot ahead of all the city’s propositions relating to city government and bonds.


The proposal will raise Travis County property taxes by 5 cents per $100 valuation, an amount estimated to cost the owner of a median-priced Travis County home about $9 per month. These funds would only pay for about 10 percent of the costs of the medical school. Both UT and the federal government would pay a much greater share.


Proponents argue that the proposal should improve health care in Austin by increasing the number of doctors in Central Texas and creating 15,000 new jobs over 10 years, a claim that opponents dispute.


According to the non-partisan League of Women Voters of the Austin Area, Prop. 1 “funds will be used to increase services for those with little or no health insurance in part by paying for services performed by doctors, medical students, etc.” (See the League’s voters’ guide.)


Leffingwell reiterated that the University of Texas at Austin medical school “will not happen if that item is not approved. That is so important to our community. It’s probably the single most important thing.”


Leffingwell is just one of many local elected officials touting Prop. 1, with state Sen. Kirk Watson spearheading of the effort.


Watson has been making the rounds wherever possible to trumpet the measure. Just after dawn on Sunday morning, Watson addressed the more than 4,300 bicyclists gathered in front of the Palmer Events Center for the start of the Livestrong Challenge and urged them to vote for Prop. 1. The annual bike ride is a big fundraiser for the cancer-fighting charity Livestrong Foundation, which was founded 15 years ago by Lance Armstrong.


Opponents criticize Prop. 1 because of the additional costs homeowners would bear if the item passes. The political action committee, Travis County Tax Pay Union PAC, has distributed hundreds of red yard signs around town with the headline: “Stop the Bleeding.”


Leffingwell also points out that the next 11 items would “fundamentally change the way city government operates.” Some of these, of course, offer big changes, some only small ones, starting with when voters choose their Council members and how long their terms should be.


Here’s a rundown of propositions 1 to 10 and how they would change the city’s charter:

1. Move the city’s general election to November from May;

2. Change Council member terms to four-year staggered terms from the current three years, ensure Council elections are in even-numbered years and limit the mayor and Council members to only two terms.

3. Adopt the so-called 10-1 plan, which would change the current Council system of electing all its seven members at-large to one in which Council members are elected from 10 geographical single-member districts, with the mayor elected at large, and set up an independent citizens’ redistricting committee to set the district boundaries;

4. Adopt the 8-2-1 plan, in which voters decide on Council members from eight geographical single-member districts and the mayor and two Council members elected at large;

5. Would allow Council members and city appointees to hire and manage their own staffs;

6. Allows City Council to appoint the city attorney;

7. Reduces the number of signatures needed for a citizen-initiated ordinance or referendum;

8. Allows Council members to raise political funds for 30 days after an election;

9. Permits City Council to lease parkland to a local school district for a park purpose;

10. Provides the establishment of a civil service system for most city employees except for police officers and fire fighters, who are already covered by a state civil service statute.


Proposition 11 would not change the charter, but asks votes to decide whether the city should adopt civil service law for emergency medical services personnel. EMS employees petitioned the city to put this item on the ballot.


Propositions 12 through 18 concern separate bond issues totaling $385 million that City Council wants voters to approve to pay for improvements and projects in all manner of city services including transportation, green space, parks and recreation, libraries, affordable housing and more.


For a rundown of the order and the language of all the city items on the ballot, see this page on In Fact Daily.  


For a list of early voting locations, see this page on the Travis County Clerk’s website.

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