AUSTIN (KXAN) — When the city council voted to put the mobility bond on the ballot, it also established a contract with voters. The idea is to make sure funding gets spent on projects and programs outlined in the $720 million bond.
“Frankly, I think it’s one of the most important things about this proposal,” Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN, saying the first written contract with voters will assure the funding is spent in the way it’s been presented to voters, to help alleviate traffic congestion.
“The staff just can’t go off somewhere and start doing work. It has to come back to the council and it has to come back in a very public way,” Adler said.
The process is meant to address mobility project priorities, specific improvement plans and timelines. Critics say it’s all work that should be done on the front, not the back end.
“What they’re saying by that, is that nothing specific has been put together,” attorney Bill Aleshire, a former Travis County tax collector and judge said. He’s now part of Honest Transportation Solutions, the political action committee (PAC) against the mobility bond.
While Adler says the voter contract is an important piece of the bond no one is talking about, Aleshire says that’s because the contract doesn’t say a whole lot. “It’s fluff, from a legal perspective,” he said. “There’s nothing enforceable in that language.”
Aleshire pointed to a December 2015 attorney general opinion that addresses voter contracts. It explains that when an election order does not specify particular projects, the city is free to use the funding within the general purpose of the bond. In this case, anything that helps alleviate congestion, which can be open to interpretation.
Aleshire argues there is nothing specific about the bond proposal and no assurance of how the money will be divvied up between the identified corridors.
“Usually, that would already be planned out and done when you ask the voters to approve the price for something. You can tell them what they’re buying,” Aleshire said. “The voters are being asked to give a blank check.”
The mayor says the $720 million bond will be used to leverage state and federal dollars to fund the full price tag to complete all of the corridor improvements, estimated at $1.5 billion. The problem the PAC has is that none of that funding has been specifically identified yet.
“Getting this initial amount of money actually puts us into the game. Where we can compete for state funding and federal funding,” Adler said. “Because you have to go to the table and say we have a project and we have some funding for it, now join with us. Let’s leverage that money.”
The mayor maintains the bond will live up to its promise.
“Every professional and traffic engineer that I’ve talked to or I’ve heard speak or I’ve heard of, looks at these plans and tells us that they will help with congestion,” Adler said. “We’ve done enough planning. We have to get to work.”
That work is now up to voters to approve.