By Bill Oakey, April 20, 2021
First of all, the pandemic has upended the old historic model of mass transit. But, does the City Council and Capital Metro recognize that? Have they modified the plans for Project Connect the way other major cities are doing? Ridership has decreased dramatically, peak times have shifted and routes have been altered. See these two extraordinary articles:
Austin taxpayers face a bleak future of spiraling property tax increases for a new bureaucratic morass that may not even succeed in their mission. Unless we have strong oversight and rigid accountability standards, the high cost will displace many thousands of longtime Austin residents.
1. The City of Austin’s property tax increase this year for the Project Connect plan is 8.75 cents per $100 valuation. That is almost as high as the 11 cent tax for Central Health, and even closer to Austin Community College’s 10.6 cent tax!
2. The City and Capital Metro created a whole new bureaucracy for implementing Project Connect’s $7.1 billion plan. It is called the Austin Transit Partnership. I have tried several online searches for “Austin Transit Partnership budget,” and cannot find one that is published anywhere. So, who can tell us how this year’s 23%, 8.75 cent City property tax increase, that is almost as high as ACC and Central Heath is being spent?
3. The $7.1 billion transit plan was sold to the voters as an “initial investment.” The final cost for a citywide plan would easily be 3 to 4 times that amount in local funding. In 2016, Seattle voters approved a $54 billion plan to expand their existing rail system. By 2019 it was already over budget!
4. I am proposing to the City Council an annual public review process for the Austin Transit Partnership budget. It would closely follow the City’s budget process, with a proposed budget released a few months ahead of final adoption. This would be followed by 2 or 3 public hearings, with City Council members present. The final budget would have to be approved by our elected City Council. I am also asking for this year’s budget for our 23% property tax increase (8.75 cents) to be published and posted online.
5. The new Austin Transportation Partnership is busy recruiting coordinators, facilitators, liaisons and all manner of other bureaucrats to begin the process of studying and evaluating the approach to formulating the implementation of Project Connect’s $7.1 billion plan (!) Check out this colorfully worded job posting for “Manager, Board Relations:” The very first sentence has a typo with repeated words:
Manager, Board Relations
“The Manager Board Relations reports directly to the reports directly to the General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer.“
Here is one of my favorite bullet points in the job posting:
“Develop and maintain viable systems and procedures to implement board policy providing knowledgeable input to the Board in their decision-making process.”
6. There are serious questions as to whether the proposed downtown tunnel is even feasible. The fault that runs north and south through underground Austin poses major engineering challenges. And our downtown streets were elevated several feet in the late 1800’s, because of severe flooding. In the 1980’s, an amateur explorer crawled through a narrow tunnel and discovered what remains of the old downtown streets. He showed a film to the City Council. This evidence of a previous downtown, and why it was buried still lies beneath us today, shrouded in mystery.