A measure that would require more police in Austin draws support and strong opposition

The campaign for Prop A is being bankrolled by the same well-funded group who got the city’s camping ban reinstated in May.

By Audrey McGlinchy. Texas Standard story produced by Kristen CabreraOctober 5, 2021 9:45 am, , ,

From KUT:

The campaign to oppose Austin’s Proposition A, a ballot measure concerning staffing levels at the Austin Police Department that will go before voters in November, got a big financial bump from national donors last week.

Billionaire and left-wing activist George Soros gave $500,000 to Equity PAC, a political action committee lobbying against Prop A. The group also received $200,000 from The Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded in 2016 that backs progressive ballot measures.

If passed, Prop A would require APD to hire and maintain at least two police officers per 1,000 residents. Currently, the department employs roughly 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents. According to estimates from the city’s Budget Office, a ratio like this would require Austin to hire anywhere from 403 to 885 new officers over the next five years, at a cost of up to $598.8 million, depending on the number of officers.

Soros donated funds through Open Society Policy Center, according to a campaign filing submitted to the Austin city clerk’s office Wednesday. The center is an arm of Open Society Foundations, which Soros founded, according to the organization’s website.

“I’m excited. We’re thankful for their support,” said Laura Hernandez, campaign manager for the “No Way on Prop A” campaign, which is funded by Equity PAC. “Their support is part of over a hundred organizations against Prop A.”

Prop A got on the ballot following a petition drive by Save Austin Now, the political action committee behind another ballot measure to reinstate a city ban on camping, resting and panhandling in public, which voters approved in May.

“I don’t want out of town money influencing a local election,” Cleo Petricek, co-founder of Save Austin Now, told KUT. “We’re talking about people who live here, live and breathe here, who are concerned about their safety. They should be deciding [this election], not someone who lives in New York.”

Austin reported its highest number of murders this year, which the group attributes to a staffing shortage at the police department. APD has struggled to fill vacant positions since at least 2014, often employing 100 or more fewer full-time sworn positions than the city budgeted for.

The public will get an additional peek into what organizations lobbying for and against Prop A are receiving and spending Monday evening, when campaign filings due 30 days before the election must be turned into the city.

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