Mayor Adler supports raising signature requirement for citizen-led petitions

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler believes it should be more difficult to get citizen-led petitions on the ballot.

“If someone brings in $100,000, they can then buy a place on a ballot,” Adler said Tuesday.

Austin requires a minimum number of 20,000 signatures to put a petition before voters, or the equivalent of 5% of voters, whichever number is lower.

That’s the lowest threshold among large Texas cities.

In Houston, the signature requirement is 15% of total votes cast in a previous Mayoral election. Because there were 268,872 votes cast in that election, more than 40,000 signatures would be needed.

San Antonio requires 10% of registered voters. Because of the 784,148 registered voters, more than 78,000 signatures would be needed.

In Dallas, the signature requirement is 10% of qualified voters from the latest available voter registration list. Because of the 654,133 registered voters, more than 65,000 signatures would be needed.

Adler called those behind Propositions A and B on this year’s ballot “special interests” and “hired guns.”

Proposition A would require voter-approval for pro sports teams to use public land tax-free.

Proposition B would require a public vote on any Convention Center expansion.

Last year, voters shot down two citizen-led referendums.

Proposition J would have limited City Council’s power to make changes to the land development code.

Proposition K called for the city to hire an outside consultant to audit the city’s operations and finances.

In 2015, a PAC largely funded by Uber and Lyft got enough signatures for an election. They wanted to strike the city’s rules requiring finger-print background checks for drivers. But when the vote happened in May 2016, voters disagreed.

Stephen Pedigo at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs says Austin’s low signature threshold can result in a more inefficient government that gets less done, but it also gives voters more of a voice.

“Residents believe not only that they elect a body to represent them, but that they are well-educated and versed to have a voice on these opinions as well,” said Pedigo, Director of LBJ School’s New Urban Lab Institute.

In order to change the city charter and raise the minimum number of signatures, council could decide to put the issue before voters.

Ironically, a citizen-led petition would have the same effect.

It’s something Adler said city leaders would be discussing in the future.

“I do think the charter needs to change,” he said.

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