BG Reads | News You Need to Know (September 17, 2018)



Did backers of city audit proposition skirt ‘dark money’ restrictions? (Austin American-Statesman)

The political action committee behind a ballot proposition that calls for an independent efficiency audit of Austin City Hall might have broken local campaign finance laws by shielding the identities of its donors, according to city officials.

In the sole campaign finance report it filed with the city, Citizens for an Accountable Austin showed only a single source — a local nonprofit — for $137,080 of cash and in-kind donations, which fueled a petition effort to land the audit item on the November ballot. A closer look finds that the Austin Civic Fund, the 10-month-old nonprofit that directed donations to Citizens for an Accountable Austin, is headed by the same man who created the PAC.

In any other city in Texas, using a nonprofit to shield the identities of the people who paid to back the ballot initiative — known in this instance as Proposition K — would be kosher. In Austin, though, the passage of a 2016 city ordinance made these types of donations, known pejoratively as “dark money,” illegal…

Link to story

Cap Metro: Key to high-capacity transit is dedicated right of way (Austin Metro)

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is still a few months away from announcing what modes of transportation it plans to propose for Project Connect, the long-term plan to bring high-capacity public transit to the Austin metropolitan area.

Potential solutions include light rail, bus rapid transit, a dramatic expansion of existing MetroRapid bus service, or even autonomous buses.

At a Friday meeting with members of City Council, Capital Metro leaders and transportation consultants stressed that the eventual mode selection doesn’t matter as much as what any effective high-capacity transit depends on: dedicated right of way.

“Whether we’re talking about bus rapid transit, or light rail or autonomous rapid transit, the basic physical infrastructure needs are exactly the same,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, a national transportation consultant who oversaw a series of major transportation and land use changes as interim director of the Oakland Department of Transportation.

“We’re not forced to make a choice (on mode) now,” said Tumlin. “What matters now is: Are we ready to get the right of way?”…

Link to story

Austin's Housing Authority Reopens Section 8 Waiting List For The First Time In 4 Years (KUT)

For the first time in four years, the housing choice voucher program – formerly known as Section 8 – has reopened its waitlist to Austin residents in need of rental assistance.

The federal Housing Choice Voucher Program aims to help low-income families meet their housing costs. Residents who hold a voucher pay about 30 percent of their rent, and the federal government covers the rest.

When the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, or HACA, last opened the local waitlist in 2014, they got about 20,000 applications.

“We have finally exhausted that waiting list and are able to allow the community the opportunity to sign up again for the Housing Choice Voucher [Program],” says Laura Bodai, HACA’s director of admissions…

Link to story

Arts space assistance doubles in new budget, but is it enough? (Austin Monitor)

The city has revived the Arts Space Assistance Program that was created in 2017 and received overwhelming demand from local arts groups facing a loss of space, but was discontinued in the current budget due to lack of funding.

The Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget passed this week by City Council includes funding for a variety of programs related to capacity building for the city’s arts community, with ASAP set to receive at least $400,000, or twice the amount provided in its pilot last year.

Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, assistant director of the Economic Development Department, said it’s possible even more money can be directed toward ASAP to meet what is expected to be overwhelming demand for assistance from theater and arts groups facing increased rents or the threat of lease terminations because of development pressure…

Link to story


Cruz, O'Rourke agree to 3 debates (Texas Tribune)

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso, have agreed to three debates before Election Day.

Announced Friday by both campaigns, the schedule calls for debates Sept. 21 in Dallas, Sept. 30 in Houston and Oct. 16 in San Antonio. Each event will be an hour long and vary in topic and format:

  • Dallas: Domestic policy, moderated

  • Houston: Domestic policy, "town hall style"

  • San Antonio: Half domestic policy, half foreign policy; moderated

The Dallas debate will be at Southern Methodist University, the Houston debate will be at the University of Houston and the San Antonio debate will be at a studio there.

The announcement caps a debate over debates that began in May when O'Rourke proposed six debates with Cruz, two in Spanish. Cruz, who is not fluent in the language, quickly shot down that idea and maintained he was open to debating O'Rourke but wanted to wait until closer to Election Day to talk debate details and lock in a schedule…

Link to story

The fight over the Texas Legislature isn’t only in the House (Texas Tribune)

The first peek at the politics of the next legislative session is gestating in San Antonio and points west, where an election on Tuesday will decide who’ll be filling Democrat Carlos Uresti ’s seat in the Texas Senate.

It’s one piece of the leadership puzzle that will fully take shape in January, when the Legislature convenes in Austin for its regular session. Most eyes have been on who will replace Speaker Joe Straus, and what that might mean for the direction of the Texas House of Representatives.

But the Senate’s operations depend on the Senate’s makeup — and that’s subject to voter review in the elections this week and in November. The upper chamber could be in for some change, too…

Link to story

GOP determined to flip Democratic-friendly state senate seat in overtime round (Texas Tribune)

The aggressive drive by top Texas Republicans to flip a Democratic-friendly state Senate seat will culminate Tuesday as their candidate, Pete Flores, faces Democrat Pete Gallego in the final round of a special election.

The runoff for Senate District 19 will determine the successor to former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who resigned earlier this year after 11 felony convictions. But the contest also has implications for the balance of power in the upper chamber, where the GOP is heading into the November elections with a tenuous hold on their supermajority.

As a result, GOP leaders have lined up behind Flores, a former state game warden who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti in 2016, and in some cases, activated their own campaign machinery to help him against Gallego. The Democrat is a former congressman from Alpine who previously represented the area for over two decades in the Texas House…

Link to story


Flake opposes quick vote on Kavanaugh, putting confirmation in doubt (Politico)

Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court hit a serious roadblock Sunday night, as GOP Senate Judiciary Committee member Jeff Flake said he is uncomfortable voting to advance Kavanaugh's nomination later this week after the nominee's sexual assault accuser went public. The Arizona senator said he needs to hear more about the allegations raised publicly by Christine Blasey Ford on Sunday in a Washington Post article, and said other Republicans share his view. Flake is one of 11 Republicans on the narrowly divided panel and without his support, the committee cannot advance his nomination. However, GOP leaders could try to bring Kavanaugh‘s nomination directly to the Senate floor. "If they push forward without any attempt with hearing what she's had to say, I'm not comfortable voting yes," Flake said. "We need to hear from her. And I don't think I'm alone in this." Flake declined to address whether Kavanaugh should withdraw his nomination: "I'm not responding to that question at all."…

Link to story

The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.


Twitter #binghamgp 

Instagram #binghamgp