CPA and economic development expert, Richard Viktorin of Audits in the Public Interest, testifies before the Texas Senate Finance Committee on why the plan to subsidize the Formula 1 Race Track in Austin by the state of Texas is a “liar’s loan.”
Today’s hearing on Senate Bill 690, Senator Jeff Wentworth’s “Anti-Petition Bill”, was an interesting display of the Real Estate Council of Austin’s unbelievable temerity in stepping out in front of the train that’s been long overdue–that’s the citizen participation train. This is not a time to be trying to circumvent or stifle voter participation. This is what SB 690 is really about, though RECA’s new President, Craig Douglas, said today that RECA was all for the process of citizen initiatives. They were just so very concerned that there were “too many” citizen charter amendments coming up for a vote in Austin, this was “costing the City” too much money, and besides, they argued, these pesky petitions don’t really have much support anyway.
The only problem is that since 1997, there’s only been five citizens charter amendments on the ballot in Austin, and only two initiatives since 1992 (Save Our Springs and the recent anti-smoking ordinance). Since 1997 petitioning access at local stores has been severely curtailed. The recent Prop 2 charter amendment (Stop Domain Subsidies) had widespread support, came in at 48% and even after it failed it led to some changes at City Hall (though much more is certainly needed).
Senator Wentworth was seemingly caught off guard when Brian Rodgers blew through RECA’s claim that charter amendments are costing the city money. Amendments are placed on the ballot only during regular elections and if there’s no city election happening, the City simply shares the cost with the County — so there’s no additional costs to the taxpayers!
Did RECA write the bill and the bill analysis for Wentworth? This was real tacky.
You democracy junkies might get some entertainment watching the actual testimony here (go to Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Part II, 56 minutes 12 seconds in to the tape). You’ll see Republican Roger Borgelt, Green parttime lobbyist Bill Stout, and a gal who came in from Bryan, Texas, to beg Wentworth not to make this more difficult for citizen activists there and in 345 other Home Rule cities.
Special thanks to attorney Michael Miller who spent a full day of volunteering to research the legislative history of charter amendment petitioning. It was great to know that the legislature UNANIMOUSLY passed the 5%/20,000 signature cap requirement in 1973 because the 10% requirement was too difficult.
My personal favorite was the testimony of Mike Ford of InitiativeforTexas.org, who urged for a reality check on RECA who was simply trying to make sure they have access to hundreds of millions of dollars in special interest subsidies! At 77, Mike not only looks great, he is great — a great defender of the people’s constitutional right to petition government for redress of grievances.
We will keep you informed as to what happens with SB 690, since it is now in the “pending” file. Is it dead? We have no idea. But we know some in the Senate are listening to us, but not yet Senator Wentworth. You might give him a call at 512-463-0125.
Hearing before the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Royce West
Wednesday, March 18, 9:30 a.m., Rm. E 1.028
State Senator Jeff Wentworth, who represents most of South Austin, Hays County and NW San Antonio, is pushing his anti-petition bill, Senate Bill 690 which will affect 346 cities in Texas. SB 690 would more than double petition signatures required of citizens in Austin, and more than quintuple them in Houston, to place a municipal charter amendment on the ballot. Currently the law requires 5% of qualified voters up to 20,000, to call for an election to amend the city charter. SB 690 would eliminate the 20,000 signature cap and raise the percentage to 10% of registered voters. The reason for this? The Real Estate Council of Austin was upset that Austin voters almost passed Proposition 2 last November. Proposition 2 would have banned retail subsidies, including the $65 million voluntary giveaway to the developer of the Domain luxury shopping mall, Simon Properties, the country’s largest mall developer.
Brian Rodgers of ChangeAustin.org and formerly the Austin Proposition 2 campaign, said, “The measure barely failed at 48%, but that hasn’t stopped RECA and Wentworth from trying to rig the rules for all 346 Home Rule Texas cities, falsely claiming that the current signature requirements, ‘results in costly elections on issues that are questionable and carry little public support.’”
Come to the hearing tomorrow, Wednesday, 9:30 a.m., held by the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, in the underground extension of the Capitol, E 1.028.
For more information call Linda Curtis at 512-657-2089.
TO: CITY COUNCIL & MAYORAL CANDIDATES
OPPOSE: Senate Bill 690 – The RECA Anti-Petition/Anti-Democracy Bill
AUSTIN, Texas – March 12, 2009 – ChangeAustin.org founder, Brian Rodgers, is calling on all City Council and Mayoral candidates to work together to oppose Senate Bill 690, Senator Jeff Wentworth’s “anti-petition” bill at their candidate debate this Saturday, 4 to 6 pm at Opal Divine’s on South Congress.
Rodgers said SB 690, if passed, would more than double petition signatures for citizen initiated charter amendments and would thereby, “stifle public participation when the public is more excited than ever about engaging in the political process. SB 690 is the ‘really sore winner’ response from the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) who is pushing this bad bill as retribution for the fact that Austin voters almost passed the Prop 2, aka the Stop Domain Subsidies amendment last November. RECA’s selfish drive to shut down Austin’s activist community arrogantly harms the petition rights of the citizens of 345 other Texas cities, if passed.”
Linda Curtis, one of the founders of ChangeAustin.org and an expert on petition access issues in Texas said, “Petition access has become an increasing problem throughout the state due to anti-petition practices by malls, grocery chains and even college campuses. Raising the petition requirements will severely inhibit public participation in a process that 346 Texas cities have enjoyed for many decades.”
ChangeAustin.org is a mix of local activists (Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, small “I” independents) and owners of local home grown businesses such as Michael Parker, owner of Opal Divine’s and Tim League, co-owner of The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The group is dedicated to bringing voters and local businesses lacking representation in our local government back to City Hall. More information can be found on the ChangeAustin.org blog at http://www.ChangeAustin.org, or by calling 383-8484.
CONTACT: Linda Curtis
2153 S. Lamar #205 • Austin, TX 78704
512-383-8484 • 512-657-2089
Anti-petition bill — set for a hearing THIS WEDNESDAY 9:30 am — to more than double petition signatures for citizen’s charter amendments. (Details below.)
State Senator Jeff Wentworth is sponsoring SB 690 (details below) at the request of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Call Senator Wentworth’s office (512) 463-0125. Ask Sen. Wentworth to pull SB 690 down.
Then join us this Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Capital — in the underground extension, Room E 1.028 for a hearing on SB 690.
Are you coming to our Mayoral Forum this coming Saturday, March 14, 4- 6pm, at Opal Divine’s, 3601 S. Congress (Penn Field)?
This will be one of the few places where you get to see Council Members Leffingwell and McCracken together with former Comptroller and Austin Mayor, Carole Strayhorn, in the same place at the same time.
Caution: Wanna vote on our endorsements? Make sure to sign up here to be a member for $20 by this coming Friday at midnite! (If you can’t spring the $20, please call us — there are other ways, like indenturing your labor to us for a few hours).
PS Please forward this on to five friends and invite them to join our email network — it’s free of course!
MORE ON SB 690
Here’s the actual bill language.
A quick political history. The Austin Chamber of Commerce has been pushing this bill, we believe as their response to Prop 2, even though Prop 2 failed! It was just a little too close (48%) for the Chamber’s comfort. In 2007 Senator Kirk Watson carried this bill (minus an amendment in this year’s bill that exempts police and fire). The requirements currently for citizen’s charter amendment petitioning is 5% of registered voters, with a 20,000 signature cap. Wentworth’s SB 690 would raise the signatures to 10% and remove the 20,000 cap. The law already requires 10% for citizen’s municipal initiatives, referenda and recall petitions. (Remember, Texans only have I&R&R at the city level). The reason you don’t see more referenda and initiatives is because petitioning requirements make them near impossible and WAY too expensive. If anything, they should lower those requirements. Bottom line — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. How many citizen’s charter amendments have we seen in the last 10 years in Austin? Four. How many have passed? None! But that hasn’t stopped the Chamber from trying to snuff out any opposition to their developer scams on Austin taxpayers. Defeat SB 690! If you’re a member of the Chamber — let ‘em have an earful, cancel your membership and tell them you’re sending your dues for ChangeAustin.org, who will keep fighting for voters and local business.
ChangeAustin.org had the pleasure of sitting down with Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt and staff today to discuss how we might work together. The hot topic — economic incentives. Sarah, and the entire County Commission, are revisiting this issue. We’ll have all the dish at our next meeting scheduled for Saturday, February 14th, 3 to 5 pm (location to be announced — check our calendar on the front page.)
It seems that both the Austin City Council and the County Commission are starting to take a re-look at incentives AND the concerns that have been raised repeatedly by Austin City activists for a more transparent and open government. You might read about it in today’s Statesman here.
Obviously, the devil is in the details of these new policies as they develop, but there can be no substitution for an organized electorate that can spring in to action. That’s us, folks!
We have teams that are working now on Research, Speaking, Administration, and most important, Community Organizing.
WE NEED YOU! CALL US AND GET INVOLVED and be sure to sign up as a member so you can vote on our endorsements.– 512-383-8484