Austin mayor calls for higher standard to get items on ballot after Proposition A fails

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler called it a “lesson.”

In a live interview Wednesday morning on KXAN News Today, Adler was referring to the lopsided defeat of Proposition A in Tuesday’s election. While the political action committee Save Austin Now was able to get it on the ballot, collecting more than 25,000 signatures from voters on its petition in July, Adler said there needs to be a higher standard to get items in front of voters.

“Government by ballot, I think, will lead to ballot fatigue,” Adler said. “We really do need to save this really important democratic process, but that’s what the law is now and everyone is free to access it. But when you lose an election like this, I think there’s a lesson in that.”

In order to get an initiative on a ballot, groups must get at least 20,000 signatures from registered voters on a petition (or 5% of a city’s qualified voters population, whichever is less). The petition is then certified by the city clerk through a sampling of the signatures to make sure they are legitimate.

Proposition A was defeated soundly, 68%-32%, and while Adler referred to Austin as “one of the four safest cities in the country,” SAN cofounder Matt Mackowiak said at a campaign watch party Tuesday night that “things will have to get worse before they get better as it relates to public safety.”

The proposition would have made the city hire two police officers for every 1,000 people in Austin, would have doubled the required training for officers, expand on minority hiring and mandate a minimum of 35% of officers’ shifts be spent on community policing. Austin’s chief financial officer estimated the cost of the proposition would range from $271.5 million to $598.8 million over the next five years, making that $54.3 million and $119.8 million per year. SAN maintains those estimates were incorrect.

Adler said public safety is “the highest priority, and always has been and will continue to be,” but he said it’s more than just policing.

“Yes, we do need to properly staff our police. We need to fight crime,” Adler said. “Our community wants a comprehensive approach to public safety which includes, certainly but is more than just police. This was not a referendum on police. We support our police.”

The city’s public safety budget, which includes funding for police, fire and EMS services, makes up 70% of Austin’s entire budget. Adler said it would have suffered if Proposition A passed.

The Austin Police Association and Texas Police Association supported the proposition. 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.

Despite the defeat, Mackowiak said SAN is going to continue work “smarter” and “harder” to push for more ballot propositions, one particularly for the May 2022 election, and will support candidates to fill city council seats and run for mayor once Adler’s term is up.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said during the PAC’s watch party Tuesday.

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