BG Reads | News - What We're Reading (July 16, 2018)
Membership rules for Austin Planning Commission both restrictive, rare (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY
When Austin voters went to the ballot box in the spring of 1994, they were inundated by nearly two dozen proposition questions regarding possible changes to the city’s charter.
One of the 22 items was yet another an attempt to establish single-member districts for the Austin City Council. That proposition failed.
So did Proposition 22, an amendment that would have prohibited Austin from providing insurance benefits to the domestic partners of city employees regardless of their sex. Voters easily rejected that headline-grabbing proposition, with 62 percent voting no.
The majority of the other proposed amendments were largely characterized as uncontroversial items, changes designed to tidy up the City Charter and bring it in line with state law.
Buried on the May 7 ballot, though, was Proposition 13. Its language called for adding two members to the city’s chief land-use board — the Planning Commission — and mandating that two-thirds of the board be “lay members who are not connected with real estate and land development.”
What do Austinites want the city budget to prioritize? (Austin Monitor) LINK TO STORY
In general, the results were similar across districts, with one notable exception: the vast majority of those from District 8, in Southwest Austin, put cost of living as their No. 1 concern.
On mobility, just under half (47 percent) said that the city’s top priority should be reducing congestion and 35 percent said that it was more important to promote access to transportation choices. Only 9 percent said the top priority should be safety, 8 percent cited the condition of infrastructure and only 1 percent cited cost.
In some ways, the differences of opinion about transportation between districts were predictable: those districts with higher populations of low-income people were more likely to prioritize transit options over congestion reduction. There were some surprises, however. Of the 33 people who participated from District 6 in the far-northwest suburbs, a third indicated transit options as their top priority – nearly as many as prioritized reducing congestion. In contrast, of the 40 who answered from the similarly suburban and similarly conservative District 8, 28 opted for congestion relief and only seven chose transit options as their top priority.
Most donations to 2016 council races from outside districts (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY
Most of the money Austin City Council candidates raised for their races in 2016 came from outside their council districts — more than 90 percent for Council Members Delia Garza and Greg Casar — according to a report issued by Texans for Public Justice.
The city’s three wealthiest districts accounted for 68 percent of all resident campaign donations, even though two of those three districts didn’t have an election in 2016.
The report, released Thursday, sheds light on electioneering under a city district-based representation system that is still in its infancy. Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said the Austin-based group timed the report to try to boost the prospects of a proposed City Charter amendment that would create a new voucher-based public campaign finance system.
Petition filed to require an efficiency audit of Austin City Hall (Austin Monitor) LINK TO STORY
Another petition has been filed with the city of Austin that could place an initiative before Austin voters this November. But this one has nothing to do with CodeNext. On Thursday, organizers with the political action committee Citizens for an Accountable Austin filed a petition with more than 33,000 signatures calling for an outside audit to examine government efficiency across the entire city of Austin.
The Austin city clerk’s office has 30 days to certify the petition once it determines that at least 20,000 of the signatures are from registered Austin voters. The PAC’s treasurer Michael Searle said volunteers and paid workers began gathering signatures in May. They verified the signatures’ validity as they went on and found that at least 21,000 were from registered voters before they turned in the petition on Thursday.
“I’m particularly excited about it because it has bipartisan support,” said Searle, who was an aide in City Council Member Ellen Troxclair’s office until March. Searle estimated that the audit, which would be conducted by an outside group and would examine managerial structures and other city operations for inefficiencies, would save the city $80 for every dollar spent. That figure relies on a back-of-the-napkin estimated cost of $2 million to conduct the audit.
City to hold information session about MLS stadium benefits (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY
The debate surrounding a Major League Soccer stadium proposal is coming to the Central Library, but don’t expect it to get any quieter.
In a Friday news release, the city announced it will hold an information session next Thursday to gather feedback on community benefits that could be derived from a stadium at McKalla Place in North Austin.
The meeting, which will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the library’s special event center on the first floor, is a response to a resolution passed by the Austin City Council on June 28.
Analysis: How to turn a weak Texas governor’s office into a strong one (Texas Tribune) LINK TO STORY
When Texas lawmakers return for a regular legislative session in January, two big things will be different: The governor will have a stronger hand in state law and policy than ever before, and the state’s financial condition will be better than expected.
Take the second bit first: Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar revised the official estimate of how much money is available to the state, adding $2.8 billion to his previous estimate, and crediting the state’s robust retail economy for the boost. That’s a partial relief to budget-writing legislators who have been fretting over a projected $7.9 billion hole in the next budget — a difference between what it would take to continue current programs and cover deficits in the current budget, and what the state is expected to collect in future taxes.
They’re not out of trouble, but they’re in a shallower hole than they feared.
The other big change comes from Gov. Greg Abbott’s quiet assertion of power over rule-making in the state’s executive branch — a letter to state agencies that essentially tells them to ask his office for approval before making new rules and regulations or changing old ones.
TxDOT to receive $1.1 billion boost from surging oil business, economy (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY
Texas highways will get a $1.1 billion boost over the next year from the state’s vibrant economy, officials say, with much of that additional funding flowing from the booming oil and gas industry.
The added money for the Texas Department of Transportation — generated by taxes dedicated to the agency’s highway fund as a result of constitutional amendments passed in recent years — almost certainly will speed up certain highway projects in the near term, said TxDOT’s chief financial officer, Brian Ragland. Whether the agency has significantly more money at its disposal over the next decade will depend, he said, on the durability of the economic surge and the energy business’ uptick.
Supreme Court nominee, wife met when working for President George Bush (Austin American-Statesman) LINK TO STORY
The common link between U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his West Texan wife, Ashley, was none other than former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
After nominating Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2006, Bush joked at the swearing-in ceremony that Kavanaugh’s marriage was the “first lifetime appointment I arranged.”
Ashley Estes Kavanaugh is a native Texan who graduated from Abilene Cooper High School and the University of Texas. The two met while working for the Bush administration in 2001.