AUSTIN — As a pivotal election fight unfolds in Texas’ capital city, out-of-state donors have funded misleading signs across town to smear and stop the citizen-led Proposition A campaign.

The Local Fight

At issue is the contentious November ballot question Proposition A, a citizen-organized public safety proposal that, if approved by voters, would reform and restore adequate police officers to the severely understaffed Austin Police Department.

Among several reforms, the proposition would enact the nationally recognized “Safe City Standard” in Austin to require two police officers per 1,000 citizens.

The citizen campaign came after a public safety disaster in Austin over the past year, tracing back to when the Democrat-run Austin City Council unanimously voted in August 2020 to defund the APD by up to $150 million (one-third of their budget) and cancel three police cadet training academies. That decision sparked a catastrophic series of events: The APD lost hundreds of officers, disbanded numerous units, has “dramatically slower” 911 response times, and most recently, will no longer dispatch officers to numerous 911 calls—all while a record killing spree unfolds on the streets.

As the election nears, out-of-state mega-donors such as far-left New York billionaire George Soros have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars to stop the Proposition A effort, partly evidenced by massive campaign signs throughout the city.

The Dishonest Threats

“Protect Austin Parks & Libraries! Vote Against Prop A,” one sign read.

One mailer opposing Proposition A even said, “Prop A will cut firefighters, putting you and your family’s safety at risk,” and included a picture of a blazing house, implying that voting to restore police staff means your home will burn to the ground.

The sign’s threat of closed city parks and libraries if Proposition A is passed is another well-worn trick. Government officials across the state have often—when asked to cut taxes, for instance—threatened to immediately cut essential services like police and fire. Interestingly, these elected officials never consider cutting their wasteful pet projects instead.

“The City [of Austin] has no problem largely wasting $179M on failed homeless spending the past three years and they don’t claim to need to cut anything after proposing a $515M plan on homelessness the next three years,” posted citizen group Save Austin Now, who is leading the Proposition A effort and completed a 25,000+ signature petition drive to get the proposal on the ballot. “These threatened ‘cuts’ are a scare tactic.”

In reality, according to Save Austin Now, Proposition A would cost roughly $30-35 million per year in the first two years, hiring the 300-350 officers needed to restore the understaffed department (it’s also only binding on the city for two years). The city’s total budget this year is a whopping $4.5 billion.

“Asking for the same staffing level we had two years ago,” wrote SAN co-founder Matt Mackowiak. “We can afford it. We have in the past. And we will again.”

Furthermore, the Austin City Council clearly has no problem collecting enough taxpayer money in their budget, as Texas Scorecard has frequently documented how they’ve squandered well over a billion public dollars just in the past few years.

“It’s so rich that when we’re asking for the same number of police officers we had two years ago … now they’re complaining there isn’t enough money,” Mackowiak said at a press conference earlier this month.

The council also spends almost twice as much per man, woman, and child in Austin compared to cities such as Houston.

“Bogus” and a “Disgust”

“In my time on [the Austin City Council], I’ve seen enough social services programs funded throughout my tenure here that we could fully fund the police department if we changed our priorities,” said Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly, the lone Republican on the council.

“Obviously public safety and parks can’t exist in the same city. Garbage won’t be collected either and there will be no air conditioning. #dingus,” wrote one citizen on social media.

“This has been the tactic here forever. When libraries were still popular and of some utility, it was always those they threatened to close if they didn’t get their way on propositions,” wrote another. “Sleazy, dishonest, and yet enduringly effective.”

“This sign disgusts me. It’s embarrassing for Austin,” tweeted one individual. “Politicians misleading people, to persuade uninformed voter.”

“The ‘this takes money from parks and libraries’ is a bogus claim,” another posted. “Not one shred of truth to that.”

Early voting in the election is currently underway and continues through October 29. Election Day is November 2.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.