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Music advocates seen as key in defeat of Proposition B

Wednesday, November 6, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Updated: 12:20 a.m.: Austin voters have defeated a ballot measure that sought to restructure how the city spends its Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, and would have forced a public vote on a proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center. The vote count just after midnight on Election Night showed a clear loss for the Proposition B measure pushed by the Unconventional Austin PAC, with 29,387 “no” votes to 23,138 “yes” votes.

Proposition B’s defeat clears the way for City Council and staff to move forward with the creation of funding mechanisms, requests for proposal and other actions related to an expansion of the convention center expected to be completed in phases over the next 15 to 20 years. The defeat also allows work to continue on a variety of initiatives tied to the expansion, including a further self-levied tax by local hotels to provide funding for homelessness relief, and new money to support the city’s commercial music industry.

Opposition to the proposition was led by the PHAM political action committee and a consortium of activist groups from the music community, who spread the message that Prop B’s passage would negate a recent decision by Council to provide $3.5 million annually in hotel tax revenue for music industry support.

Jim Wick, the lead organizer of PHAM and former campaign manager for Mayor Steve Adler, said voters appeared to be confused by the proposition language and its intent.

“The biggest thing was that this is a complicated issue, and while there definitely was chatter and discussion among people who were familiar with it, it’s really hard to create interest around an issue that has this level of complexity,” he said. “There was a lot of support for defeating this in the community, with lots of phone calls and messaging happening between people. In the end, the people decided to go with the decision of City Council.”

In June, Council voted unanimously to move forward with the expansion as well as a new vision for the district nearby around the historic Palm School property.

Interest groups related to the Palm School property and advocates for the homeless also signed on with PHAM to work to defeat Prop B.

Organizers behind the ballot measure said the convention center uses too much of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax without showing enough economic benefit in return. The proposition would have capped at 34 percent how much of the city’s annual total hotel tax could be used for convention center operations and required voter approval on any capital improvements to the facility costing more than $20 million.

Members of the Unconventional Austin PAC were waiting until final vote totals were reported before commenting on the results.

Rebecca Reynolds, head of the city’s Music Venue Alliance, said music advocacy groups decided after the ballot language was approved to go before voters, that a simple appeal to residents’ pride in Austin music was the best messaging tactic.

“This gave us our first real challenge and we asked ourselves if we should challenge the numbers and facts and figures that (Unconventional Austin) was putting out, or do we put faith in the connection that people have with music in Austin?” she said. “We decided to make it simple, that if you care about music in Austin, vote no on Proposition B.”

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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