Tuesday is Election Day — and though there are no big-name candidates for office, the ballot does offer several items too important for Austin voters to sit out.
We’ve said it time and again: It is during nonpresidential elections when citizens help decide measures with the most direct impact on people’s lives. Eligible voters should not miss their opportunity to make their voices heard.
For Austin voters, that means deciding on initiatives that aim to improve schools, roads and parks. They, along with all Texas voters, will also decide whether to once again amend the state Constitution, which has already been amended 491 times since its birth in 1876.
No ballot item will have the same degree of urgency for every voter. The results, however, will affect us all. That’s why it’s vital that more people vote.
That said, Austin can do better.
This city ranks among the best in the nation in a variety of areas; voter turnout should be one of them. Looking at the most recent early voting turnout, which ended Friday, it’s clear we have a long road ahead to be top cats at the voting polls.
Travis County has 726,770 registered voters. That’s an impressive number. But only a meager 5.5 percent — or just 39,806 — of them voted during the 14-day early voting period that ended Friday. That’s a typical turnout for a nonpresidential election, county officials told us.
Typical or not, it’s hard to believe that so few voters took advantage of early voting’s extended hours and flexible voting locations to weigh in on critical measures that pit their wallets against projects to improve roads and schools. Projects that will impact the future of Central Texas. Instead, the few thousands who do vote, as is the case in many elections, will determine the outcome of this election — and their decisions will impact us all.
It’s important that Austin and Travis County voters show up today.
When they do, they’ll find two important ballot items: the $1.05 billion Austin Independent School District and $184.9 million Travis County bond packages. Both — the Austin ISD bond package in particular — will have great impact on the region’s quality of life.
Officials calculate that if voters approve the Austin ISD bond package, the tax bill for the median-priced Austin ISD home of $262,282 this year would rise by $219 to $3,345 in 2019, assuming a conservative 7-percent increase in taxable property value. The tax bill would grow to $3,579 in 2020. The Travis County $184.9 million bond package for roads, drainage and parks would increase that same property tax bill by an additional $24.
What taxpayers would get in return is worth the investment.
With voter support, the Austin school district would be able to address some of its critical needs, such as replacing outmoded technology, expanding overcrowded schools, repairing run-down campuses and addressing structural issues at some schools. The bond also includes nonessential projects, like expanding and relocating the Liberal Arts and Science Academy.
As we noted previously, a larger investment in schools across the district would keep Austin ISD competitive with charter schools, boost equity and prepare students to become part of the established tech workforce and emerging medical sector. Voters should approve the bond package.
Projects in the Travis County bond package, which is broken into two propositions, also would affect voters’ quality of life.
Voters should support Proposition A, which would finance projects to mitigate flooding, improve and upgrade roads and build bicycle lanes and sidewalks in areas of Travis County that have been largely neglected and underserved.
Though worthy, Proposition B’s park and conservation projects are not critical.
Voters will also decide on seven proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, including Proposition 6, which has received a hearty amount of buzz. Inspired by the deaths of five police officers killed by a gunman in Dallas last year, the proposition would allow tax breaks for the spouses of police, firefighters and emergency workers killed in the line of duty.
Voters will also consider: Proposition 2, which would make several changes to home equity loans, including lowering loan fees from 3 percent to 2 percent, and allowing additional fees to be charged; Proposition 3, which would limit the “holdover provision” for governor-appointed officeholders by requiring expired terms to end at the conclusion of the next regular Legislative session; and Proposition 4, which would require state judges to notify the Texas attorney general any time a lawsuit seeks to overturn a state law.
Each measure on the ballot will have some level of impact on Texans. Today’s election will determine how profound the impact will be. One thing is for certain: Folks need to show up to vote. Otherwise, critical decisions up for our vote will be made by just a few.