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Both sides claim victory in Prop A ballot language ruling

Thursday, September 2, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Save Austin Now, the political action committee behind Proposition A, which would require the city of Austin to hire two police officers for every 1,000 Austin residents, claimed victory Wednesday when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the city must change its ballot language. But the city may have won the most important element of the argument.

The court ruled unanimously that the city must change the ballot language to match the caption on the petition voters signed to get the proposed ordinance on the November ballot. However, the court also ruled unanimously that the city must include the projected cost of the ordinance – estimated at between $271.5 million and $598.8 million – in its ballot language.

For Mayor Steve Adler and other opponents of Prop A, that part of the ruling represents a significant victory. He told the Austin Monitor via text that the cost of Prop A is “something that the petitioners had sought to hide and strike from the ballot language,” but the Supreme Court ruled that “not including the cost would be ‘misleading’ and ‘inadequate under the law.'” He said the court also struck other language added by Council, not because it was inaccurate, “but because not all the elements need to be included in the ballot language.”

Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek, the co-founders of Save Austin Now, called the ruling a “big win,” saying in their press release, “City leaders have been playing political games with ballot language for many years, ignoring the City Charter and undermining the rights of petition signers who only wish to petition their government.” They accused Adler and Council Member Greg Casar of rewriting the ordinance “in poll-tested language intended to intentionally and negatively bias voters against our true aims. The Texas Supreme Court has fully and finally rebuked this action. Instead, now our petition language will be inserted before the city’s cost estimate.”

The Save Austin Now petition, which included signatures from more than 20,000 registered voters, was certified by the city clerk on Aug. 3. Council had the choice of approving the language of the petition as a city ordinance or calling an election on Nov. 2. Mackenzie Kelly was the only Council member in favor of adopting the ordinance. After Council adopted language that was significantly different from the caption of the petitions signed by voters, Save Austin Now filed suit in both the 3rd Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals rejected the petition before the Texas Supreme Court took up the matter.

Council is now required to rewrite the ballot language as set forth in the caption and to include language detailing the cost to taxpayers at the end of the description of the ordinance, rather than at the beginning.

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