Engage Breakfast tackles local, state, federal politics in first of series

Panelists discussed topics ranging from transportation to state funding for education at the first Engage Breakfast for the 2012-13 series Oct. 10.

"We had a great turnout of interested and involved people who wanted to learn more about the issues that are affecting the region on the ballot," said Heather McKissick, CEO of Leadership Austin, which organizes the Engage series. "We covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. It's always challenging to make sure there is a balanced representation of all of the issues. I think, for the most part, the panelists did a fabulous job."

Panelists included Mike Clark-Madison, vice president of public policy and research for Hahn, Texas; Sheryl Cole, mayor pro tem for the City of Austin; Betty Dunkerley, former council member and mayor pro tem for the City of Austin; Regina Lawrence, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life; Terry Mitchell, president of Momark Development; Tom Pauken, commissioner representing employers with the Texas Workforce Commission; Ross Ramsey, executive director of The Texas Tribune; and Jason Stanford, founder and CEO of Stanford Campaigns. The panels were moderated by KXAN-TV anchors Robert Hadlock and Leslie Rhode.

For the transportation topic, panelists looked at Proposition 12 on the city's ballot, which would allocate more than $143 million for transportation and mobility, including street reconstruction, new sidewalks and projects on I-35.

Mitchell said the Bond Advisory Task Force, of which he was a member, worked hard to whittle down the transportation bond amount to fund the essential items but did not include new roads.

"From our perception, the No. 1 issue for our metropolitan area is traffic and traffic congestion," Mitchell said. "... There are no new roads. They're just too dadgum expensive."

Clark-Madison said the city's bond package is a reflection that less funding is coming from other governmental bodies, and residents are being asked to shoulder that burden.

"You're seeing that Austin voters are being asked again to invest money in ways that used to be paid for by other levels of government," Clark-Madison said. "We didn't used to have to spend local money to have repairs on the interstate highway."

Another topic discussed at the breakfast was the tax increase for Central Health to help establish a new teaching hospital and medical school.

The 5 cent tax increase for Travis County's health care district would increase the rate to 12.89 cents from 7.89 cents. The increase would cost the average homeowner more than $107 more per year.

"It's really an investment," Dunkerley said. "What do we get for that? I think with the medical school and the new teaching hospital, we'll get a more comprehensive and transformed health care delivery system."

Cole said she believes the current health care delivery system is not adequate, especially for the indigent and elderly populations, and supports the rate increase.

On a broader perspective, panelists said they believe the topic of state funding for education will be a big issue for the next legislative session, and Lawrence said funding for higher education is an important topic on a national level for young people.

There are eight remaining Engage Breakfasts with topics including philanthropy and industry and innovation. The next breakfast is scheduled for Nov. 14 and will cover the issue of Austin's growing veteran population.

For more information on the series or to purchase tickets, visit www.leadershipaustin.org/programs/engage


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