Austin voters refuse opportunity to vote on Convention Center expansion with rejection of Prop B

The Austin skyline with the city's convention center included.
A proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center (bottom right) sparked initial support behind Proposition B.

A proposed expansion of the Austin Convention Center (bottom right) sparked initial support behind Proposition B.

Austin’s Proposition B, which asked voters whether they want the right to vote on convention center expansions costing more than $20 million and proposed the city recalculate how it spends its hotel tax revenue, was rejected by Austin voters 54.4% to 45.6%, according to voting results from the Travis and Williamson counties clerks.

Approximately 91,939 votes were tallied for Proposition B between early voting and Election Day results. Early voting was open between Oct. 21 to Nov. 1, during which just over 34,000 Austinites cast votes on Proposition B. Election day totals continued to trickle in throughout the evening; however, results are not final until they are canvassed. Although it failed, Austinites living in Williamson County approved of the proposition 52.5% to 47.5%, but they only contributed 3,752 total votes to the tally.

Proposition B was sparked after City Council showed overwhelming support for a $1.3 billion expansion of the Austin Convention Center. A political action committee called Unconventional Austin soon formed and circulated a petition, which asked people whether they would want the right to vote on future expansions that cost more than $20 million. It also proposed the city recalculate how it spends its hotel tax revenue, 70% of which is currently spent on convention center operations and debt from previous expansions.

Proposition B was one of two citizen-initiated petitions that made it on this year's ballot. Proposition A was the other, which asked voters whether they wanted to vote before the city sells or leases any city-owned land for private entertainment and sports uses. Citizen-initiated petitions are a tool offered by the state constitution that allows citizens to draft laws, petition for support and force City Council to either pass the law or put it to a citywide vote.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he was encouraged by what he referred to as the electorate's resolve.

"There are significant unintended consequences that would have damaged the city if Propositions A and B were to pass," Adler said. "I'm reminded once again just how proud I am of the electorate in this city and their ability to wade through the fog and confusion of these propositions."

The lead up to this year's election was filled with debate over the merits of citizen-initiated petitions. In Austin, there was much discussion over whether the signature threshold petitions needed to eclipse to get a petition on the ballot was too low. Right now, that threshold stands at 20,000 signatures, or 3% of the electorate, which is the lowest of any major Texas city. Adler said the city needs to look toward a change. Adler urged Austinites to get informed and weigh all pros and cons of a petition before signing.

"I think it's something the city ought to consider taking a look at changing so we can make sure these petition drives happen on big issues, issues where there is a real critical mass of people who want to make that kind of change," Adler said.

Community Impact Newspaper reached out to Proposition B supporters John Riedie, Fred Lewis and Unconventional Austin, but they did not return calls for comment.
By Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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