Ballot language for city of Austin propositions
The ballot reads:
“Shall a city ordinance be adopted that requires that a sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City-owned land for any existing or future youth, recreational, or professional sports facility or any existing or future entertainment facility be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members) and also be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must pay; requires that any site development permits and variances related thereto be approved by a supermajority vote of council (9 of 11 members); requires that site development permits and variances related thereto be approved by the voters at an election for which the City must pay, if the sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation of City-owned land for the facility has not already obtained voter approval; requires that the facility post payment and performance bonds and pay ad valorem taxes, or payments equal to the amount of ad valorem taxes; and requires that all information concerning such sale, lease, conveyance, mortgage, or other alienation shall be disclosed to the public.”
“Shall an ordinance be adopted that prioritizes the use of Austin’s Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue by continuing the City practice to spend 15% of the Austin Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue on cultural arts and 15% on historic preservation, limiting the City’ s spending to construct, operate, maintain, or promote the Austin Convention Center to 34% of Austin’s Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue, and requiring all remaining Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue to support and enhance Austin’s Cultural Tourism Industry to the potential exclusion of other allowable uses under the Tax code; and requires the City to obtain voter approval and public oversight for convention-center improvement and expansion costing more than $20,000,000.”
What it means:
A pair of citizen petitions forced Austin City Council to call a referendum and place these two propositions on the ballot. The first asks whether any city land deal for sports or entertainment venues should be subject to voter approval. The petition was circulated after the city entered into a lease agreement with the operators of Major League Soccer club Austin FC that allowed the team to build a stadium in North Austin. According to the agreement, the city retains ownership of the land, which means the club will not pay property taxes, and the club will begin rent payments of $550,000 beginning in year six of the deal. Club officials said the proposition will have no bearing on their construction timeline. Work began in September and the stadium is expected to be complete in 2021.
The second item stems from City Council’s decision in May to explore a potential $1.3 billion expansion of the Austin Convention Center. A group opposing the convention center expansion, Unconventional Austin, led the petition drive effort to bring this item to the ballot. The proposition calls for voter approval before the city moves forward with any convention center expansion costing more than $20 million and asks whether the city should overhaul its formula to spend its hotel tax revenue. Currently, the city spends roughly 70% of its hotel revenue on the convention center’s operations. If voters pass this ordinance change, the city will have to cap its convention center-related spending to either 34% of hotel tax revenue or five times the hotel tax revenue produced by the convention center, whichever is greater.
Ballot language for Travis County proposition
The ballot reads:
Authorizing Travis County, Texas to provide for the planning, acquisition, establishment, development, construction, renovation and financing of new and existing facilities of the type described by Section 334.001(4)(A) of the Texas Local Government Code, including a multipurpose arena and adjacent support facilities and any related infrastructure in the area of the Travis County Exposition Center and designated by a resolution of the Commissioners Court of the County adopted on July 30, 2019 (the “Resolution”) as a sports and community venue project within the County in accordance with applicable law (the “Venue Project”), and to impose a new hotel occupancy tax on the occupancy of a room in a hotel located within the County, at a rate not to exceed two percent (2%) of the price paid for such room, and if approved, the maximum hotel occupancy tax rate imposed from all sources in the County would be 17% of the price paid for a room in a hotel, for the purpose of financing the Venue Project, and approving the Resolution.
What it means:
Travis County wants voter approval to collect hotel occupancy tax revenue to fund an expansion of the Travis County Exposition Center. The county wants, and is legally allowed, to finance the expo center project with a 2% venue project tax on hotel bills paid by guests staying within the county. However, the county will not be able to collect any such revenue until at least 2021 because the city of Austin currently collects the venue project tax to pay off its debt for the 2002 expansion of the Austin Convention Center. State law mandates no hotel guest can pay more than a 17% tax. Austin has maxed out that cap, with 11% going to the city and 6% to the state.