After dispute, Austin council agrees to shift hotel tax money to parks


Austin leaders will reduce the percentage of hotel taxes that goes to the convention center to put some into park preservation, the City Council agreed Thursday night, after a protracted dispute that pitted Mayor Steve Adler against Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchen.

The move will decrease the slice of hotel taxes going to the Austin Convention Center and marketing arm Visit Austin from 85 percent to 70 percent, freeing up $11.9 million next year for historic preservation of amenities at parks such as Barton Springs and Zilker Park.

But the growth in new hotels generating more hotel tax revenue will help cushion the blow to the convention center and Visit Austin, which together got $59.8 million this year and would get an estimated $55.3 million next year.

While the funding shift isn’t enormous, its implications pointed to larger questions: whether the convention center should be Austin’s primary tourist-drawing priority and whether it should be expanded.

Adler pushed back against shifting the tax funding, fearing it would torpedo a “downtown puzzle” idea he pitched over the summer to increase hotel taxes, expand the convention center and create a tourism public improvement district. His plan would commit $559 million of an estimated $609 million in hotel taxes over four years to expanding and promoting the convention center and put perhaps $4 million to $8 million per year toward homelessness initiatives.

RELATED: Tug of war intensifies over hotel taxes going to convention center

When the other council members last week pitched the 15 percent funding shift toward historic parks, Adler immediately responded by proposing an amendment that would merely have staffers study options, but not yet approve anything. He also added an agenda item telling the staff to start working on the downtown puzzle.

But as the hours of tug-of-war wore on Thursday evening, and dozens of speakers weighed in, it became obvious that the mayor lacked support. Ultimately, Adler agreed to withdraw his amendment and backed the funding shift toward parks.

In exchange, Troxclair agreed to ask the city’s staff to bring back an analysis of the shift before the 2018 budget is approved in a few weeks — giving the council a chance to change its mind.

Adler’s proposal to move his downtown puzzle plan forward, meanwhile, was postponed Thursday after council members said they still had questions about the complicated financing involved.

Proponents of putting 15 percent of hotel tax toward parks and preservation said that it didn’t prevent a convention center expansion, and they didn’t appreciate the two things being conflated.

“I’m amazed that we’re in a position today where we’re pitting creating a bucket for historic preservation against expanding the convention center and funding (help for) homelessness,” Kitchen said. “That’s just not true.”

MORE: Adler: Hotel tax plan would help homeless and Austin Convention Center

Adler, however, argued that the council shouldn’t shift money away from the convention center without knowing how it would affect operations there and how it would affect the potential expansion tied to his plan to create a public improvement district.

“My problem with (the item) is that it could prejudice the ability to get that income stream for homelessness,” he said.

Proponents of the change argued that putting hotel tax money toward parks could help free up general fund money for other things.

Scott Joslove, president of the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, asked the council members to consider phasing in the funding shift to parks and preservation.

“It’s difficult to imagine $11 million coming out of either the (visitor’s bureau) or the convention center and it not affecting staff or potential services,” he said.

Members of the public who turned out to support shifting the money to preservation framed it as an issue of citywide interests versus downtown priorities. Hotel taxes can only fund things that promote tourism, but many people argued that other Austin features do that more than the convention center. About 2 percent of city visitors come for conventions, according to one 2013 estimate.

RELATED: Dispute simmers over merits of Austin Convention Center expansion

John Kunz, owner of Waterloo Records, said he read a couple of travel guides to Austin to figure out why visitors come here and found only two short mentions of the convention center.

“One said, ‘It’s big,’” he said. “The other one said ‘roller derby’s there.’”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

The Stormy Daniels story is a reminder of Trump’s imperviousness to traditional scandals
The Stormy Daniels story is a reminder of Trump’s imperviousness to traditional scandals

By our count, at least six media outlets were aware of the alleged affair between porn star Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump before the 2016 election.  - InTouch magazine spoke with Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) in 2011 - before she allegedly signed an agreement with Trump's team in which she was paid $130,000 not to discuss the...
Trump’s plans to remake the Federal Reserve hit snags
Trump’s plans to remake the Federal Reserve hit snags

In less than three weeks, the Federal Reserve, which is widely credited with playing a major role in leading the United States out of the Great Recession, will be under new leadership. Current Fed chair Janet L. Yellen is leaving, and Jerome Powell is President Donald Trump's nominee to take her place. But Trump's efforts to remake the Federal Reserve...
Angela Rye to host her own political show on BET
Angela Rye to host her own political show on BET

Get ready for the perfect blend of "Lemonade" and political tea-spilling: Angela Rye, the Beyoncé-quoting cable news commentator, is set to headline her own show on BET.  Rye, a fixture on CNN, will host and executive-produce a quarterly show tentatively titled "Angela Rye's State of the Union," according to the website...
Reliable Source: New poll shows Oprah Winfrey with a slight lead over Trump in a 2020 matchup
Reliable Source: New poll shows Oprah Winfrey with a slight lead over Trump in a 2020 matchup

President Donald Trump seemed confident he could trounce Oprah Winfrey in 2020, if the TV host-turned-media mogul were to drop her designer hat into the political ring. But a new poll suggests otherwise: Oprah would beat Trump by 40 percent to 38 percent, according to the data collected by the Morning Consult and Politico.  Not that she should...
Trump administration creating civil rights division to shield health workers with moral or religious objections
Trump administration creating civil rights division to shield health workers with moral or religious objections

The Trump administration will create a new conscience and religious freedom division within the Health and Human Services Department to ease the way for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to opt out of providing services that violate their moral or religious beliefs.  Specific details are scheduled to be announced Thursday. But the...
More Stories