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EMS union joins firefighters in opposing Prop A

Friday, October 15, 2021 by Jo Clifton

The political action committee for the Austin EMS employees union has voted to join the Austin Firefighters Association PAC and AFSCME Local 1624, the civilian employees union, in opposing Proposition A on the November ballot.

Save Austin Now, the PAC that gathered petitions to put the measure on the ballot, has estimated its yearly cost at $30 million, while the city of Austin says it would add between $54 million and $120 million a year to the Austin Police Department budget. The APD budget currently stands at $442 million, while the EMS budget for Fiscal Year 2021-22 is $105 million.

Selena Xie, president of the EMS Association, said in a news release Thursday, “We are asking Austin voters to look past the divisive politics that have intensified the conversation around Prop A and simply consider its implications for sound fiscal management of our city. Please vote no on Prop A.”

As the EMS union explains, there are other complicating factors: “Earlier this year, the 87th Texas Legislature passed HB 1900 which resulted in the Austin Police Department’s budget returning to its 2019 level, and the 2021 Austin City Council added $10 million to that. HB 1900 also prevents the Austin City Council from reducing APD’s budget in the future. In 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature passed SB 2, which caps the city’s ability to increase their overall budget. Due to the combined effects of these two state bills, we fear Prop A will create an irreversible escalation of police costs that will cannibalize Austin’s EMS and other city services for many years to come.”

EMS leaders added,” For perspective, your Austin medics have had great difficulty securing an additional $1 million to $5 million to enhance EMS services. This has been true despite the fact we are still many ambulances short of the city’s needs, more understaffed than the rest of Austin’s public safety departments and underpaid compared to our Austin public safety colleagues.”

Save Austin Now co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek told the Austin Monitor via email, “This is a regrettable decision by Austin EMS. They have been sold a lie by city leaders who have money to fund every single pet project, but claim they do not have money to restore police staffing to a level of just two years ago. Austinites are tired of living in fear where 911 can no longer respond except in the most extreme circumstances. We can have a safe city again with enough police officers, and the only way is by passing Prop A.”

Firefighters Association President Bob Nicks said, “Prop A solves none of the problems that exist within APD today. Prop A is a poorly written law and will shift at least $75 million from the Fire and EMS budgets, as well as other essential city services.”

Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, has been a strong supporter of Proposition A. He said the EMS union vote did not concern him “because I think people have already made up their minds … I’m not sure (EMS) entering the fray at the last second” will make a difference.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler told the Monitor in a text, “It makes sense the Austin EMS Association has joined the Firefighters Association, and so many other diverse organizations, in opposing Prop A.”

Council Member Leslie Pool also commented via text, “I am extraordinarily pleased that the EMS union has joined their partners in the Austin Firefighters Association to oppose Proposition A, which is a fiscally irresponsible and dangerous proposal that sacrifices the stability of all our critical first responders. I am optimistic that once voters truly understand the cost of Prop A to our firefighters and paramedics, not to mention our parks, libraries and public health workers, they will head out to the polls to soundly defeat this badly crafted measure.”

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly, who supports A, had a measured response, telling the Monitor, “As a first responder myself, I know that the community relies on the assistance of all agencies involved in public safety to help those who call upon us for service. I’m disappointed that the EMS union had initially said they’d remain neutral about Prop A and changed course, but I’m confident that despite the outcome of the election these agencies will continue to work together to assist the community during their times of need.”

Carol Guthrie, business manager for Local 1624, is one of the staunchest opponents of Prop A. She said, “I am proud to stand up today with first responders united against Prop A. Together we represent thousands of city workers who understand that their jobs and services depend on the same funds that Prop A would decimate.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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