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May 08, 2004

Austinites: Remember to Vote!

By Byron LaMasters

I just returned home this afternoon from blockwalking for the endorsed candidates and issues of the Austin Progressive Coalition (an organization that puts up doorhangers in central Austin precincts for candidates / issues endorsed by both the Central Austin Democrats and University Democrats). Every Democratic Primary / Runoff election and every local election, APC will endorse candidates and put up doorhangers on the doors of thousands of central Austin precincts. All six of the candidates endorsed by APC in contested elections in the 2004 Democratic Primary were nominated (five in the primary, one - Constable Maria Conchola in the runoff).

On May 15, Austinites will elect two Board Members to the ACC (Austin Community College) and will decide two referenda. The first is a referendum for the city of Austin to grant our firefighters collective bargaining. The second is a referendum for all Travis County residents on whether to create a Hospital District.

As for the ACC election, I made some endorsements a few weeks ago. You can check out that post here. The seat four race is a clear choice. Jeffrey Richard is a Democrat with great qualifications and ought to win easily. In distirict five, incumbent Rafael Quintanilla is uncontested. We endorsed him, and he's done a good job, so vote for him if you feel inclined. I'm expecting district six to go into a runoff. The liberal / progressive community is a little divided on this race. The Austin Chronicle endorsed Democratic precinct chair, and longtime ACC activist Guadalupe Sosa. I'm confident that she would be a good servant to the ACC Board with her background of direct involvement with ACC. Having said that, however, our endorsement went to Rodney Ahart. Like Sosa, Ahart is eminently qualified to serve ACC. Ahart has worked for great Democrats in the legislature such as Dawnna Dukes and Rodney Ellis. Not only that, but he's focused much of his work on issues of higher education. What made the difference for me was the candidates ability to articulate a vision for ACC, and connect with students and young people. Ahart came to the University Democrats meeting the week before our endorsement meeting to introduce himself and speak with us individually after the meeting when we go to hang out at a local joint for burgers and beer. At the endorsement meeting, Ahart again clearly outlined a clear agenda for ACC, while Sosa was difficult to hear from the back of the room - fifteen feet away at the Mr. Gatti's on MLK by campus. The other candidates, Veronica Rivera and Marc Levin did not attend the meeting. While, Veronica Rivera seems like a decent candidate, it's difficult to take seriously a candidate that ignores the opportunity to speak to a group of people (CAD and UD's) who are willing to spend hours of time putting up thousands of doorhangers for the candidates we endorse. As for Marc Levin, he's the Republican candidate. Some progressive leaders I've talked to are concerned that he will make the runoff and could win a very low turnout runoff. Levin is the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Young Conservatives of Texas (and current staff attorney for the right-wing State Supreme Court Justice Steven Wayne Smith - who was even too conservative for GOP primary voters, as he lost in the 2004 GOP primary). Personally, I'm predicting a runoff between Sosa and Ahart, but a divided Hispanic vote could land Ahart and Levin into a runoff. The Austin American Statesman endorsed Veronica Rivera, so this is a true four-way race. It's still up in the air.

I'm expecting the Collective Bargaining for Austin Firefighters to pass relatively easily. There seems to be some token opposition - some group called "Taxpayers for Equity" ran an ad in this week's Austin Chronicle in opposition to collective bargaining, but I seriously doubt that Austinites will say no to their firefighters.

The vote on the Travis County hospital district is a different story. There is significant opposition to this. To learn more about it, check out Healthy Travis County. According to some sources working on the campaign for the hospital district, their telephone i.d.'s and early vote totals give them cause for concern. Apparently, the hospital district is winning in the City of Austin by a small margin, but the non-city residents (about 25% of the voters in the county) are going heavily against the hospital district in a large early vote turnout. This points to a very tight race, meaning that it is critical for Austin voters to turn out for the hospital district. That makes sense and all, as non-city residents currently pay five times less in taxes to support the Travis County health care system - despite the fact that some of the wealthiest communities in Travis County, such as Westlake Hills and Lake Austin are outside of the city of Austin. Anyway, if you are a city of Austin resident, the Travis County Hospital District will NOT raise your taxes. What it will do is create tax fairness for all residents of Travis County by equalizing tax rates for city and non-city residents in Travis County. It's really a simple issue of efficiency and fairness. The current Travis County Health Care Revenue System is convoluted and confusing. Creating a hospital district would make funding our county health care more efficient by simplifying the revenue process. More importantly, this is an issue of fairness. As I said, Austin taxpayers pay five times more than (non-Austin) county residents in taxes to support Travis County health care facilities, even though all Travis County residents have equal access to the facilities. The Hospital District would equalize taxes for all Travis County residents. It would bring in needed money into the system to prevent emergency room overcrowding and to extend the hours of local clinics. That's a good thing for Travis County.

In other things to support... Only one of the AISD incumbents has a challenger. I voted for Doyle Valdez over perennial candidate Jennifer Gale. Also, as Andrew noted earlier, if you're in Del Valle vote FOR Prop 3 to allow Del Valle ISD to join the ACC system.

Early voting lasts through Tuesday, so vote early, or vote on election day next Saturday! Early vote locations here.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at May 8, 2004 09:29 PM | TrackBack


Hi. I've heard that the Hospital Tax District won't raise the taxes of homeowners inside the city limits. How does that work exactly? Will my city or county taxes be lowered to offset the new tax?


Posted by: Todd at May 8, 2004 09:37 PM


If you live in the city of Austin your taxes will stay the same or be lowered slightly.

What the hospital district will do is raise the taxes for non-city residents in the county to equalize them with the taxes of city residents. Right now, citizens of wealthy suburbs such as Westlake Hills and Lake Austin pay significantly lower taxes than city of Austin residents. The Travis County Hospital District would equalize rates for all Travis County residents.

Posted by: Byron L at May 8, 2004 09:53 PM

I am voting for the Hospital District, but to say that it wont raise taxes for city residents is a little misleading. The plan retains the right for the new district to enact new taxes at a later time, so its likely that eventualy, the taxes of city residents would go up. But, in reality, that would probably happen no matter what. Vote YES Hospital District

Posted by: Will at May 8, 2004 10:20 PM

A tax raise for Austin residents in the future is a possibility, but I would argue that under the current system its more likely that they would be raised more than under the hospital district system as the burden will be spread out among all Travis Co. residents as opposed to just city of Austin residents.

Posted by: Byron L at May 9, 2004 12:12 AM

Thanks for the feedback. The irony is this: while wealthy non-Austin residents pay less in taxes toward the health care system, they receive the best care.

I have doubts as to whether a Health Care District would equalize services. Parity should be based on income, not geography. Make the wealthy pay their fair share through other means.

Have other solutions been discussed?

Posted by: Todd at May 10, 2004 11:02 AM

How about decoupling the entire structure and not taxing people for the services others use?

Posted by: Charles Hueter at May 10, 2004 02:27 PM

So basically we should ask people who are victims of attacks or rape or in car wrecks or with a stroke or heart attack to pay before they enter the ER if they don't have insurance?

Right. Another example of how libertarianism looks good on paper but fails in practice.

Posted by: Byron L at May 10, 2004 05:31 PM

Not at all. Non-elective health care cannot be governed by the free market. But why not base payment on a sliding scale? It's a simple technique used by many clinics.

Will wealthier residents be forced to pay for the health care of others? Yes. We all benefit from a society that values human life -- all human life.

When we as a society leave the value of life to Adam Smith's invisible hand, we're no better than plantation owners.

Posted by: Todd at May 10, 2004 11:03 PM

Seriously folks: Marc Levin is bad news. As a U.T. student he sued the student government and lurked on the listservs of progressive student organizations to gather evidence against the "left-wing conspiracy" that haunts his dreams each night.

If you care about the future of progressive issues in Texas at all, show up at the polls and let him know that his far-right opinions aren't welcome in Austin...

Posted by: Vote No On Levin! at May 11, 2004 12:28 AM

Byron, I don't know how you get "failed" out of the senario you described. Since when did people get a right to healthcare? Since when must others be forced to pay for it?

Posted by: Charles Hueter at May 11, 2004 10:23 AM

Well I think it's a fundamental difference in political philosophy. I believe that decent health care is a right for all Americans.

Posted by: Byron L at May 11, 2004 03:07 PM

Byron, Byron.. I wish it would not bug you so much that Lupe is soft-spoken. As I commented earlier, it has not kept her from pushing her issues and being successful at it. As The Chronicle states, these candidates have similar goals/issues. Lupe has been the visionary and pushing these issues for several years now. Rodney and Veronica did not even bother to vote in the most recent ACC elections.. well Veronica voted in one, can't say the same for Ahart. What is up with that? Where is the committment and dedication to the "issues of higher education"? FYI - Lupe has picked up endorsements from Hon. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez
Jackie Goodman, Maria Canchola, John Worley (ACC Board of Trustees), Citizens for Educational Excellence at ACC (CEEACC), South Austin Tejano Democrats, South Austin Democrats, Travis County Dems - Women (or something like that) and The Austin Chronicle. Vote Sosa!

Posted by: AustinGirl172 at May 11, 2004 03:20 PM
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