TX: Austin City Council to Clarify Intent of Light Rail Ballot Language

Aug. 12- With so much riding on the city of Austin's rail election in November, one word can have a lot of power.

The word in this case is "including," and its appearance in the ballot language approved by the Austin City Council last week has made enough people nervous in the days since that the council will have a special meeting this Thursday to eliminate any ambiguity.

Specifically, the council will consider a resolution clarifying its intent that voters are authorizing $600 million of borrowing only for the 9.5-mile Highland Mall-to-East Riverside light rail route that has been before the public for several months.

If they approve the city's Proposition 1 in November, voters will also be giving the city implicit authority to borrow another $400 million for road projects, some of them directly related to a potential future light rail extension to the airport. Borrowing the rail money, in the ballot language, is contingent on the city first providing funding for the road projects.

That money likely will also be borrowed, and city officials said the total debt on $1 billion for roads and rail could increase the property tax bill on a $200,000 home by $217 a year.

The ballot language approved last week says the money will be borrowed for rail systems, "including" the $1.4 billion light rail proposal. But at least some people inside or outside the city fretted that if this proposal dies -- if for instance federal regulators turn it down for matching funds -- then the ballot language could be interpreted to allow $600 million to be spent on a different rail project.

In the draft resolution for Thursday's meeting, which begins at 3 p.m. at City Hall Boards and Commission Room (rather than at the council's temporary home at the Travis County Commissioner's Court chambers), the council "clarifies and declares its intent and commitment to the voters" that the bond money will go only for Highland-to-Riverside plan.


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