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Austin City Council finalizes ballot language for convention center vote

Tuesday, August 27, 2019 by Andrew Weber, KUT

In November Austin voters will decide the fate of the convention center’s expansion, along with a possible reshuffling of how the city spends money from hotel stays.

Ballot language for the public referendum was OK’d by the Austin City Council this afternoon, after a state appeals court ordered the city to rewrite language it found was misleading and vague.

The official language proposes an ordinance that would cap the city’s ability to spend money from hotel taxes on the Austin Convention Center, requiring the city to spend 15 percent on efforts to improve and support cultural tourism and businesses and 15 percent on historical preservation.

The full language is below:

Shall an ordinance be adopted that prioritizes the use of Austin’s Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue by continuing the City practice to spend 15% of the Austin Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue on cultural arts and 15% on historic preservation, limiting the City’s spending to construct, operate, maintain, or promote the Austin Convention Center to 34% of Austin’s Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, and requiring all remaining Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue to support and enhance Austin’s Cultural Tourism Industry to the potential exclusion of other allowable uses under the Tax code; and requires the City to obtain voter approval and public oversight for convention center improvement and expansion costing more than $20,000,000?

A petition to get the question on the ballot was started by the political action committee Unconventional Austin. After the city clerk certified signatures on the petition were valid, language for the ballot was approved by the Austin City Council – at least initially. Supporters of the PAC sued the city over how Council members worded the question, and a three-judge panel sent the city back to the drawing board last week, finding the language could sway voters from fairly considering the item.

The city is moving forward with its $1.2 billion effort to revamp the convention center and redevelop the area around the historic Palm School.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT.

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