AUSTIN (KXAN) — With early voting beginning in about a month, critics of one measure that will be on the ballot — Proposition A — launched a formal movement Thursday.
No Way on Prop A is a coalition of more than 80 groups, including labor unions, the Austin Justice Coalition and the Travis County Democratic Party.
Proposition A calls for a ratio of two police officers for every 1,000 Austin residents.
In a memorandum to city council, Austin’s chief financial officer estimated the measure would cost between $271.5 million and $598.9 million over five years.
That’s on top of a record $442 million budget city council approved for the Austin Police Department for 2021-22.
“Prop A is an unfunded mandate that would force Austin to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on the police department,” organizers wrote in a press release ahead of a media conference.
A city spokesperson told KXAN News the state legislature has put a cap on how much cities and municipalities can increase tax rates, so the city is exploring how it would pay for Prop A.
Critics fear that will mean cuts to other departments and programs the city has invested in over the last year, like ambulances and family violence and substance abuse programs.
“If Prop A passes, all of these services will be on the chopping block. We’re talking about neighborhood public libraries, neighborhood swimming pools, mental health services,” said city council member Vanessa Fuentes.
“When Proposition A raids our general fund, it will be our parks and our pools that pay the public price through budget cuts,” said local environmentalist Bobby Levinski.
“This is just a fear mongering tactic,” said Cleo Petricek, cofounder of Save Austin Now, the group that petitioned to put Prop A on the November ballot.
She thinks the city’s estimate is inaccurate. She believes APD can handle the additional staffing with what they have.
“This is an assessment by them, it’s not by a third party. This is within their own, exploding the number,” she said.
But the city’s cost estimate factors in things like population growth, additional police substations and incentives for good behavior Save Austin Now wants.
Petricek says we need to hire and retain more officers to curb a growing murder rate.
“This is unsustainable… the way that it’s going now, we are not deterring crime,” she said.
According to APD’s latest report in July, murders are up by 81% over the last year. But other violent crimes, including rape and assault, are down, along with the overall crime rate.
Critics agree crime needs to be addressed — but disagree Prop A is the way to do it.
“The bottom line is, the way we do policing now does not make us feel safe. We don’t need more cops, we need more resources,” said Chas Moore, executive director and founder of the Austin Justice Coalition.
Critics also say while Prop A would boost police staffing, it doesn’t say anything about police accountability. The authors say the Office of Police Oversight would continue to handle that.