There’s An Election Going On. Here’s What You Need To Know.

I Voted

There’s an election going on right now in Austin and after 12 days of early voting, turnout in Travis County is still less than 6 percent!

Here’s the deal – Elections are important. Most people seem to understand that, but we also tend to forget how important they are when there’s not a presidential election going on. You can help reverse that trend. Check out the information, get informed, and don’t forget to vote. There is still time!

And remember, because so few people tend to participate in local elections, each and every vote really does matter. In 2015, a $287 million bond measure to build a new Travis County courthouse was defeated by a mere 1.44 percentage points.

So what’s on the ballot?
While there are no Austin City Council or mayoral elections on the ballot this time, there are several other important elections taking place in Travis County, the Austin Independent School District (AISD), and the State of Texas.

Let’s start with Travis County.

In total, Travis County has $185 million in bonds on the ballot this year, broken up into two parts. If both pass, it will cost the average homeowner in Austin (with a house worth $305,000) about $24 a year.

Travis County Bond 2017

Proposition A – $93,445,000 for roads, bike lanes, sidewalks, and drainage improvement projects at low water crossings. Here’s how the money will be spent:

  • $31,719,050 for roadway capacity building and improvement projects
  • $26,883,644 for drainage improvements and stream crossing projects
  • $26,664,000 for bike lane construction
  • $8,173,438 on pedestrian safety projects and sidewalk construction
Proposition B – $91,445,000 for park projects and conservation easements. Here are some of the major projects the money will fund:
  • $23.5 million to build a new Bee Creek Sports Complex with synthetic turf fields, sports lighting, playgrounds, and a hike/bike/walking trail
  • Just over $7 million to acquire parkland and make improvements for a 19-mile Gilleland Creek greenway between Northeast Metro Park and the Colorado River
  • $16.6 million for conservation easements to protect water resources, working farms and ranches, wildlife habitat, and other environmental resources

What people are saying – Both Proposition A and B have been endorsed by Bike Austin, the Austin Chronicle, and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. AURA opposes Part A (saying that the additional road projects subsidize sprawl), but supports Part B.

You can look through the complete list of projects that would be funded by the bond (as well as get a more exact estimate of what it will cost you) here>>

And now on to AISD…

The Austin Independent School District is having a big $1.05 billion bond election this year, in an attempt to fund the first phase of the district’s 25-year maintenance and facilities upgrade plan. The bond will be listed on the ballot as AISD Prop 1 and fund a wide array of projects, including:

  • The purchase of 190 replacement buses and 30 additional buses
  • The construction and modernization of 16 campuses across the district to replace significantly aged buildings, address overcrowding, and create 21st century learning spaces
  • $55.5 million on major technology upgrades and computer purchases
Another major component of the bond is a bit of school shuffle involving LBJ, LASA, and Eastside Memorial high schools. Here’s what’s in the plan:
  • LASA High School (a magnet school) will leave the campus it currently shares with LBJ High School and relocate to the campus of Eastside Memorial
  • LBJ High School will receive a modernization project and the build out of a medical career launch program
  • Eastside Memorial will move to the original Anderson High School, which will receive $80 million in modernization improvements

According to AISD officials, this shuffle is taking place to give LASA room to grow (and accept more students), as well as to house LASA in a more central location. Since LASA is a magnet school, students throughout the entire city are able to attend and many have complained that at its current location in northeast Austin, commute times are too long.

A full list of projects that will be funded by the AISD bond is available here.

Despite the high price tag associated with the bond, AISD officials explain that it will not lead to a property tax increase. The district will be refinancing old debt, selling off some land, and banking on rising property values to fund the project. A full explanation of how they plan to do this is below.

What people are saying – Supporters of the bond say that it is a necessary measure to relieve overcrowding (and accommodate a shift in the city’s populations centers), fix the school district’s aging infrastructure (the average building is over 40 years old), and create new high tech programs to give the city’s kids a 21st century learning experience. They explain that every school in the district will received needed improvements and upgrades from this bond. The campaign to support Prop 1 is being led by the Committee of Austin’s Children Political Action Committee. 

The opposition to Prop 1 is being led primarily by the Save East Austin Schools Political Action Committee. They argue that the bond does not equitably distribute resources to east Austin schools where racist inequity exists. They have also criticized the district’s decision to spend so much money on facilities, as opposed to directly on educational resources. Concerns have also been raised about proposed plans to close some underenrolled east Austin schools. Although the closure of specific schools is not technically included in the bond proposal, it is wrapped up in the larger 25-year Facilities Master Plan effort and bond funding model.

And last but not least, state propositions…

The State of Texas has seven constitutional amendment propositions on the ballot. Here’s what they are:
Prop 1
The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead and harmonizing certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution.

Prop 2
The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing of home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads.

Prop 3
The constitutional amendment limiting the service of certain officeholders appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate after the expiration of the person’s term of office.

Prop 4
The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional.

Prop 5
The constitutional amendment on professional sports team charitable foundations conducting charitable raffles.

Prop 6
The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.

Prop 7
The constitutional amendment relating to legislative authority to permit credit unions and other financial institutions to award prizes by lot to promote savings.

So how do I vote?

Early voting lasts from now until Friday, November 3rd. Election Day is on Tuesday, November 7th. If you’re a Travis County resident (most City of Austin residents are), you can vote early at any of these locations from 7am to 7pm Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6pm on Sunday. 

A list of polling locations open on Election Day is available here.

Information about voting in Williamson county is available here.

If you’d like any more information about elections or voting, you can check out the League of Women Voters 2017 Voters Guide here.

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