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2019 Austin voter guide

A cheat sheet for locals

Austin, it’s time! Election Day is Tuesday, November 4. If you didn’t vote early, tomorrow is your last chance.

Are you ready?

There are 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution for voters to give their thumbs-up or -down on the ballot. In addition, there is one proposition for Travis County voters to cast their ballots on and two citywide propositions.

Below is a guide to, primarily, local propositions that affect housing, transit, and public facilities (which is pretty much all of them).

Austin propositions

Proposition A

Ballot language: Shall a city ordinance be adopted that requires that a sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City owned land for any existing or future youth, recreational, or professional sports facility or any existing or future entertainment facility be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members) and also be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must pay; requires that any site development permits and variances related thereto be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members); requires that site development permits and variances related thereto be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must pay, if the sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City-owned land for the facility has not already obtained voter approval; requires that the facility post payment and performance bonds and pay ad valorem taxes, or payments equal to the amount of ad valorem taxes; and requires that all information concerning such sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation shall be disclosed to the public?

This citizen initiative originated with a petition put forth by group protesting the city’s soccer stadium deal at McCalla Place. While the deal is done and there is no longer any organized protest, a successful petition means it’s still on the ballot—and might still have supporters. Approval (voting “yes”) would mean a new requirement that the city of obtain a supermajority vote of the City Council (9 of 11 members) and hold an election for voter approval in the future sales, lease, or transfer of city land and the the granting of site development permits and variance in cases related to sports or entertainment venue development.

Proposition B

Ballot language: Shall an ordinance be adopted that prioritizes the use of Austin’s Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue by continuing the City practice to spend 15% of the Austin Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue on cultural arts and 15% on historic preservation, limiting the City’ s spending to construct, operate, maintain, or promote the Austin Convention Center to 34% of Austin’s Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, and requiring all remaining Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue to support and enhance Austin’s Cultural Tourism Industry to the potential exclusion of other allowable uses under the Tax code; and requires the City to obtain voter approval and public oversight for convention-center improvement and expansion costing more than $20,000,000?

This prop was also driven by a citizen petition, this one in a response to the City Council’s approval of a $1.2 billion convention center expansion, to be paid for with hotel occupancy taxes collected by the city. Approval (a “yes” vote) would cap how much of the city’s HOT tax take could be spent spent on the operation, maintenance, improvements, and promotion of the convention center at 34 percent and require voter approval for convention center improvement costs totaling more than $20 million.

Approval of the proposition would also 36 percent of remaining HOT taxes go to supporting and enhancing Austin’s cultural tourism industry and that the current practice of allocating 15 percent to cultural arts and 15 percent to historic preservation would continue.

Opponents of the proposition argue that, while state law prohibits spending HOT funds on things not somehow related to tourism, passing the proposition would further restrict such spending and prevent use of the money on projects that fund residents in ways that ultimately make the city better and more appealing for them and for tourists—including addressing issues such as homelessness and providing adequate support for the city’s music community.

Travis County Proposition A: Exposition Center

Ballot language: Authorizing Travis County, Texas to provide for the planning, acquisition, establishment, development, construction, renovation and financing of new and existing facilities of the type described by Section 334.001(4)(A) of the Texas Local Government Code, including a multipurpose arena and adjacent support facilities and any related infrastructure in the area of the Travis County Exposition Center and designated by a resolution of the Commissioners Court of the County adopted on July 30, 2019 (the “Resolution”) as a sports and community venue project within the county in accordance with applicable law (the “Venue Project”) and to impose a new hotel occupancy tax on the occupancy of a room in a hotel located within the county, at a rate not to exceed two percent (2%) of the price paid for such room, and if approved, the maximum hotel occupancy tax rate imposed from all sources in the county would be 17% of the price paid for a room in a hotel, for the purpose of financing the Venue Project, and approving the resolution.

Travis County currently collects no hotel occupancy tax, and this measure—put on the ballot by the Travis County Commissioners Court—would allow it to charge 2 percent on room rentals in the county but outside the city of Austin, to be dedicated to the expansion and renovation of the Travis County Exposition Center (located in far East Austin near Walter E. Long Park, which is also being eyed for massive renovation).

The county’s bid to tap into tourism dollars has caused some conflict with the city of Austin. While the city’s use of the maximum allowable HOT rate dictated by the state (17 percent) currently would allow the county’s proposed 2 percent tax to apply only to rental rooms outside the city, it would be possible for it to levy some percentage of HOT in the city in the event that the city’s take goes down (which it could after it pays off its current loan on the convention center—an event that is scheduled for 2029 but could happen earlier).

State propositions

There are 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution on the ballot. (See this informative video to learn why Texas has so many constitutional amendments.)

Ballot language for each proposal is below. See the excellent League of Women Voters guide for explanatory information, including the most common arguments for and against each amendment. Proposed amendments to the state constitution are by law put before voters only by the Texas Legislature

Proposition 1 (HJR 72)

The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.

Proposition 2 (SJR 72)

The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas.

Proposition 3 (HJR 34)

The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster.

Proposition 4 (HJR 38)

The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.

Proposition 5 (SJR 24)

The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes.

Proposition 6 (HJR 12)

The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to increase by $3 billion the maximum bond amount authorized for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Proposition 7 (HJR 151)

The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.

Proposition 8 (HJR 4)

The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects.

Proposition 9 (HJR 9)

The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation precious metal held in a precious metal depository located in this state.

Proposition 10 (SJR 72)

The constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.

Other county and city elections

There are ballot measures and elected offices up for votes in Georgetown, Jonestown, Lago Vista, Manor, Pflugerville, and Sunset Valley, as well as in the Del Valle and Manor independent school districts.

There are also bond proposals for roads and parks up for vote in Williamson County.

See the League of Women Voters guide for more information on these elections.

Voter resources

Vote411 [League of Women Voters]

Texas Elections, 2019 [Ballotopedia]

Early voting has started. Here’s everything you need to know. [KUT]

Austin Chronicle endorsements [The Austin Chronicle]

Early voting in Texas’ constitutional amendment election ends Nov. 1. Here’s what voters will decide [The Texas Tribune]

Austin American-Statesman recommendations