AUSTIN (KXAN) — Rodeo Austin and some Travis County leaders came together Wednesday to announce they are backing Proposition A for the Travis County Special Election on the November ballot.
The proposition would use 2% of Austin’s Hotel Occupancy Tax for improvements to the Travis County Expo Center, the home of Rodeo Austin. Currently, that money is controlled by the city and is being used for the Austin Convention Center, However, if the city pays off its current debt on the convention center, the county could access that 2% funding stream. It needs voter approval to make that change.
“Travis County is a proud partner with the rodeo, in preserving our cultural heritage and in providing tremendous scholarships to needy Texas high school students who seek to go to college at Texas schools,” said Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt at a press conference Wednesday.
In August, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to raise the hotel occupancy tax, effectively prioritizing the possible expansion of the Austin Convention Center at the expense of the Travis County Exposition Center.
At the time of the vote, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said that even with an increased local HOT rate, the county could still benefit from HOT dollars once the city pays off its previous bonds.
Previously, the county has not used local HOT dollars, but as Travis County has grown, county leaders have become more interested in looking at ways they can do that through state law.
The county has asked Austin to commit to paying down its convention center debt to free up that cash. Travis County is hoping the city could continue using the 7% HOT designated by the state’s tax code and the county could eventually take the 2% HOT designated by the state’s local government code because that is the only portion of HOT funding the county is allowed to access.
A 2016 study called for the Expo Center to be rebuilt for $470 million. That would include increasing the seating capacity to 15,000, with a larger meeting hall and exhibit space, as well as more parking.
For Travis County to access the HOT dollars, it needs to ask voters for permission. Voting “Yes” on Proposition A will give Travis County that permission.
“You give us the authority for that 2%, we use it if and when the City of Austin is no longer using it for the convention center,” Eckhardt said.
If the city agrees, the extra hotel tax revenue would be available for the Expo Center by 2021. If nothing is done, the county won’t see the cash until 2029.
Proposition A on the Travis County Special Election ballot is different from the one on the City of Austin Special Election ballot. Prop A for the City of Austin would require any sale or lease of city-owned land for a professional sports facility or youth sports organization to be approved by nine of the 11 city council members.