TX: Pro-Rail Campaign Off to Fast Fundraising Start

July 15--A political committee formed to support this fall's probable $1 billion rail-and-roads bond election in Austin has raised $73,245 , more than half of it coming from downtown Austin interest groups.

That sum dwarfs the $669 raised by Our Rail, a committee founded by Scott Morris, a rail activist who opposes the route chosen for the city's first electric-powered rail line since streetcars ceased operation about 75 years ago. Another faction led by retired high-tech executive Jim Skaggs that opposes building the rail line, no matter its location, has not yet formed a political action committee and thus did not have to file a report Tuesday.

The Austin City Council will decide in August whether to call the bond election. But in June the council unanimously endorsed a staff plan that included $600 million for an "urban rail" line and $400 million for road projects and some studies of potential future road and rail projects. The rail proposal would have a double-tracked line running roughly from Highland Mall in North Austin, through downtown and east on East Riverside Drive to Grove Drive, with 16 stations and four park-and-ride lots.

The city hopes to get a matching amount from the Federal Transit Administration, but the $1.2 billion total of city and federal money would still leave the city short of the estimated $1.4 billion cost of building the entire 9.5 miles.

The Let's Go Austin political action committee, in a report covering the Jan. 1 to June 30 period, reported 28 donations, or an average of $2,615 per donation. That average was pulled up considerably by two donations for $32,000 and $5,000 from the Downtown Austin Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for downtown Austin property owners.

The committee has spent $39,176. The bulk of that, $32,000, was a May payment to a Washington, D.C.-based polling firm.

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