Wednesday, May 17, 2017

#TXLEGE: "Save MUNY" bill refuses to die....

We apologize for the blurry picture, but that's actually a good metaphor for the revival of this bill.
"Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?!?"
Matthew 20:15

[Note: The hearing can be viewed here, our testimony is just after the one hour mark.]

It's not often we testify in a committee hearing on the same side of an issue as Greg Fenves and the Texas Exes, but such is the nature of an obscure land dispute in West Austin in which the legislature has inexplicably chosen to involve itself.  We had thought this one was dead.  But late yesterday afternoon, the House Land and Resource management committee announced a hearing on short notice.

We outlined the reasons for our opposition to SB 822 when it was heard in the Senate back in March.  The short version is that UT is sitting on an extraordinarily valuable tract of land in West Austin, which UT has occasionally considered selling to residential/mixed use developers.  In a city with a chronic housing shortage, keeping this option on the table seems prudent; unfortunately, that prudence exists alongside some dirty local Austin politics.

At this morning's hearing, UT and their representatives (led by Fenves) testified that it was in the interest of everyone involved to respect the wishes of the original donor.  Furthermore, they testified that this could lead to remittance clauses being inserted into all future gifts, but not just gifts to them.  Thus, there could be unintended consequences in any number of areas where a future legislature might invent a future jurisdictional claim.  But here's the thing [Note: we can't believe we're about to say this]: UT's argument isn't entirely crazy.  Who's to say how a future legislature in 10 or 20 years would interpret this action?!?  Does the legislature really want to create this precedent?!?  Tread carefully....

As to our personal testimony: we gave the same schpiel we give any time the "Save MUNY" issue comes up.  In a city with a chronic housing shortage, it strikes us as absurd to place artificial restrictions on prime real estate that presently hosts a golf course.  If UT wants to sell this particular tract of land to developers...that would be a good thing!

Rep. Ernest Bailes attempted to obfuscate by asking a straw-man question about whether we would apply the same logic to Central Park in New York City.  While Bailes question was a curveball we didn't expect, we replied that midtown Manhattan doesn't have the 6000-square foot lot size requirements that Central Austin has, and that his question was irrelevant as long as that distinction applies.  That being said, having had a few hours to digest Rep. Bailes question, if we were offered the deal of leaving the Muny tract alone in exchange for upzoning the surrounding neighborhood...we would take it.

Making matters worse: Lyle Larson (who's carrying the bill in the House), used his closing argument as an opportunity to throw Wallace Hall under the bus.  Rather than addressing the issues, Larson reminded the committee of his role in the Wallace Hall impeachment and reminded the room "I have been sued by a UT regent."  If there weren't already enough reasons to shoot this bill down on the merits, hearing the bill sponsor cite his role in that disgraceful fiasco makes us oppose it all the more.

Bottom Line: We hope this bill dies....

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Note: During the Senate hearing, we criticized the Texas Exes for their lack of attention to this issue; giving credit where it's due, they had a significant presence at today's hearing.

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