Council revives talk of reneging on Domain deal as budget vote nears


Austin’s 2018 budget discussions are crawling to a close this week, and City Council members are looking for more cash.

Council Member Leslie Pool began the week’s talks Monday with a request for the city to revisit its economic development payments to the Domain — revitalizing a debate that’s been ongoing for at least a decade.

It wasn’t clear whether the suggestion had any support to move forward, and the council didn’t immediately return to it after an executive session to discuss legal matters behind closed doors. The council is expected to adopt the budget sometime this week. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

RELATED: Proposed Austin budget raises taxes, fees $178 for typical homeowner

Austin in 2003 approved a $37 million tax break over 20 years for the Domain in exchange for the development creating jobs and affordable housing. Some buyers’ remorse settled in after that, and a push to revoke the Domain’s incentive package became a ballot proposal in 2008, but voters rejected it.

The city’s agreement with the Domain, which is in Pool’s North Austin District 7, includes a stipulation that any payments are subject to agreement from future councils. But Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Jimmy Flannigan pushed back strongly against the city backing out of its end of the economic incentive agreement, saying it would be a terrible precedent to set. Austin needs to live up to its deals, they said.

“Every time, as a city, we talk about going back on a previous agreement, the next agreement becomes more expensive,” Flannigan said. “Every time we send a signal to the community that we’re not going to hold ourselves to agreements we make, the next negotiation becomes more expensive.”

RELATED: Police criticism, social services requests lead Austin budget response

Moreover, he added, voters already settled the debate over the Domain.

“We simultaneously acknowledged that ‘You know, we don’t really like this Domain agreement,’ and we changed our city policies,” Flannigan said. “But the community said, in no uncertain terms, we should be keeping to the agreements we make.”

The debate over tax incentives to businesses comes as officials have said the city will make a push for Amazon.com’s secondary headquarters. Pool and some other council members had campaigned against such business incentives.

With a proposed budget that includes various cost increases that are already committed — from staff raises to new expenditures such as police body cameras and operation of a new Central Library — the staff’s proposed $1 billion general fund leaves only a thin $5 million buffer for council-driven expenditures.

Some additions have drawn support from multiple council members, including more funding for homeless services, funding for social services at schools, salaries to continue employing 12 police officers hired on a one-year basis in 2016 and legal services for immigrants.

Some council members have expressed frustration with the budget overall and want more funding for health and social programs.

“I don’t think we’re where we need to be in regards to health and human services,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said Monday.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Trump administration to ask Supreme Court to intervene on DACA
Trump administration to ask Supreme Court to intervene on DACA

The Justice Department on Tuesday said it would take the "rare step" of asking the Supreme Court to overturn a judge's ruling and allow the Trump administration to dismantle a program that provides work permits to undocumented immigrants raised in the United States.  The Trump administration said it has appealed the judge's injunction...
New U.S. embassy, which Trump mocked on Twitter, opens in London
New U.S. embassy, which Trump mocked on Twitter, opens in London

The gleaming new U.S. embassy in London opened on Tuesday with little fanfare and no official ribbon cutting. President Donald Trump sparked a furor here last week when he tweeted that he wasn't coming to open the $1 billion building — the most expensive embassy every built — because it was a bad real estate deal and in an "off location...
FBI detains man it says betrayed U.S. spies in China
FBI detains man it says betrayed U.S. spies in China

A former CIA officer suspected by investigators of helping China dismantle United States spying operations and identify informants has been arrested, the Justice Department said Tuesday. The collapse of the spy network was one of the U.S. government’s worst intelligence failures in recent years.  The arrest of the former officer, Jerry Chun...
Adult-film star reportedly spoke to journalist in 2016 about Trump settlement, fearing he wouldn’t pay up
Adult-film star reportedly spoke to journalist in 2016 about Trump settlement, fearing he wouldn’t pay up

An adult-film star who was reportedly paid to remain silent about a sexual relationship with Donald Trump a decade before he became president spoke to a journalist because she feared he would not pay up, according to a new account.  Stephanie Clifford, whose professional name is Stormy Daniels, spoke to the online magazine Slate multiple times...
Trump’s embrace of earmarks spurs push for congressional revival
Trump’s embrace of earmarks spurs push for congressional revival

There is a 14-mile gap in Interstate 49 outside Fort Smith, Arkansas, and local Republican congressman Steve Womack would very much like to secure the estimated $300 million in federal taxpayer dollars needed to fill it.  A decade ago, it would have been fairly easy: Womack sits on the House Appropriations Committee, where he could have tucked...
More Stories