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Lies Our Mayor Told Us About Prop A / Project Connect

Lies Our Mayor Told Us About Prop A / Project Connect

Lies Our Mayor Told Us About Prop A / Project Connect 150 150 Voices of Austin

A Letter from Peck Young, Executive Director of Voices of Austin

A lie is defined as “a false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood. Something meant to deceive or mistakenly accepted as true.”

Mayor Adler and his staff have lied about Proposition A / Project Connect in the press, on TV, on the radio, and on social media. I personally heard lies when I argued against John-Michael Cortez, the Special Assistant to the Mayor, in a debate held by the South Austin Neighborhood Alliance (SANA).

Here are some of the mayor’s lies, each with proof he is lying.

Lie #1: “Prop A taxes will pay for Project Connect construction.”
Truth:

  1. The mayor lied to Austin voters and the media about financing Project Connect. Prop A’s taxes are not for construction. Prop A’s taxes are for debt payments. The only way City Hall can pay for Project Connect from Prop A’s tax dollars is to issue Certificates of Obligation, which is a bond by any other name. Except, this is a bond voters can’t vote on.
  2. Who will issue those bonds? Who will indebt Austinites for decades? The Austin Transit Partnership – an unelected, unsupervised board, which would run Project Connect. City Hall will pack The Austin Transit Partnership with the same property developers and engineering firms who paid half a million dollars to try to con the voters into passing Prop A.
  3. Prop A’s tax revenue is grossly insufficient to build Project Connect on the schedule claimed. Prop A’s tax increase would generate about $160 million annually. At that rate, it would take the city 45 years to collect enough tax revenue to pay for Project Connect’s $7.1 billion “initial investment” and 60 years to pay for the full $10 billion system.

Lie #2:Project Connect is NOT a 24.6% increase in the city of Austin’s property tax, the largest tax increase in over 100 years. The mayor compounds his lie by trying to deceive with statements like the tax increase is just 4%. Or it’s just an $8 increase.”
Truth: Below is a table published by the city as part of Project Connect’s ballot language as required by state law. This city document shows the tax increase is 24.6% on the average Austin homestead and even higher – 26.2% – on commercial property like rental units.

Lie #3:The Project Connect property tax increase will be lessened by the over-65-year exemption and the homestead exemption.”  (During our SANA debate, John-Michael Cortez maintained this position, despite correction by the debate moderator.)
Truth: Austin city property taxes are not affected by either the homestead exemption or the over-65 exemption.

Lie #4: “Project Connect will decrease traffic in Austin.”
Truth: A Freedom of Information request, answered by Jacob LaBorde, the city’s Public Information Coordinator, states: “Traffic impacts will be studied as the lines move forward through engineering.”  Which means there are no studies today.

CAMPO has a study showing that 20 years from now the proposed system will reduce trips by 0.88% – less than 1%.

Lie #5: “Ridership on the Project Connect rail lines will be [any number]”
Truth: It doesn’t matter what the mayor says about ridership on the Project Connect lines, because Capital Metro has no ridership studies.

Lie #6: “Federal funds will cover a substantial part of Project Connect’s costs.”
Truth: This city document, RESOLUTION NO. 20200807-003 says on page 6: “Finally, if federal matching funds are not available to complete components of the initial investment, or additional components, Council contracts with the voters that the Project Connect Tax Revenue shall be used to fund as much of the initial investment in Project Connect as possible.”

The city made a similar promise with the Red Line and not a penny of Federal money materialized. Austinites bore the entire tax burden.

Lie #7:Project Connect’s tunnel under Lady Bird Lake will cost $300 million (or any specific number).”
Truth: Mayor Adler has no idea what the proposed tunnel under Lady Bird Lake will cost. The graph below is from the city’s resolution committing Project Connect.

Even if all goes according to plan, the cost of Project Connect’s tunnel(s) will not be known until sometime in 2023. The graph shows “Preliminary Engineering” for both the Orange and Blue lines under Lady Bird Lake will not finish until Year End 2021 and “Final Design / Procurement” pre-construction phases for both lines will not finish until Year End 2023.

Lie #8: “Project Connect will provide racial and economic justice to the minority districts in East Austin.”
Truth: The same graph (above) shows design of the Green Line in East Austin will not start – start! – until 2027. The Green Line is not projected to be finished until 2032. Project Connect does not even promise racial and economic justice for more than a decade from today.

Lie #9: “Project Connect benefits all of Austin and all Austinites, not just center city.”
Truth: The same graph shows the first decade of Project Connect is limited to center city.

Lie #10: Prop A’s ballot language says: ‘… for the purpose of providing funds for a citywide traffic-easing rapid transit system known as Project Connect, to address traffic congestion, expand service for essential workers, reduce climate change emissions, decrease traffic fatalities, create jobs, and provide access to schools, health care, jobs and the airport; to include neighborhood supportive affordable housing investments along transit corridors and a fixed rail and bus rapid transit system, including associated road, sidewalk, bike, and street lighting improvements, park and ride hubs, on-demand neighborhood circulator shuttles, and improved access for seniors and persons with disabilities …’”
Truth: None of those stated benefits is supported by data. Not one. Maybe those claims are the mayor’s wishes, but compelling evidence says he’s lying. The political donations received by the Mobility for All political action committee supporting Prop A prove who will benefit from Project Connect: engineering firms, property developers, and property owners. The Specific-Purpose Committee Campaign Finance Report “Mobility for All” shows who expects to receive Prop A’s taxpayer money. Around 60% of the PAC’s funds – over half a million dollars – came from 7 donors, each of which expects to profit from Project Connect:

  1. HNTB Transportation Engineering – $155,000 – development contracts
  2. Austin FC soccer team – $100,000 – new station
  3. Brandywine Operating Partnership – $100,000 – increased property value
  4. Endeavour Real Estate Group – $100,000 – increased property value
  5. HDR Engineering Transportation – $60,000 – development contracts
  6. Presidium Group – $30,000 – increased property value

Lie #11: “Project Connect allocates $300 million in funds to provide “affordable housing” to those along the train routes.”
Truth: 

  1. Project Connect’s displacement fund is a lie. The tax rate ($0.0025 per $100) for the displacement fund will generate the promised $300 million displacement fund in … 69 years.
  2. The affordability problem is not the house, it’s the value of the land under the house. Project Connect’s transit corridors are intended to increase land values to line the pockets of property developers. Even if a family owns their home in one of these corridors, the value of their land and their property taxes will skyrocket forcing the family off their land and out of their house.
  3. City Hall has proven it doesn’t care about affordable housing. For years, the City has had $250 million in “affordable housing bonds” yet, the City hasn’t built any significant amount of “affordable housing.” How much “affordable housing” can we expect them to build after they collect another $300 million in 69 years?

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Voices of Austin (VofA) is a grassroots citizen’s organization formed to speak out for the vast majority of Austin citizens and organizations.  VofA is a registered 501c4 nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.  It is not a political action committee and will not endorse or oppose candidates or propositions in an election or make financial contributions to candidates or campaigns.

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