Divine Intervention at the Ballot Box

 

Perhaps there is another explanation for the increased turnout in early voting for the runoff election: Austin Interfaith.

In a release on Thursday, the ecumenical group said it has “conducted an intensive non-partisan Get out the Vote Campaign” over the past three months for the May 14 city election and the June 18 runoff. According to the group, more than 100 leaders from 27 Austin Interfaith member institutions took to their pulpits, got on the phone and went door-to-door to get out the vote. Its leaders targeted five specific precincts: on the East side precincts 124, 438 and 439; on the South side in Dove Springs, Precinct 450; and on the North side, Precinct 163.

During the last weekend of early voting Austin Interfaith leaders engaged over 700 households with the result that early voting was up significantly, they say. Austin Interfaith targeted several precincts in November 2010 with similar results.

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ELECCION DE SEGUNDA VUELTA: 18 DE JUNIO!

Austin Interfaith les urge a votar según su consciencia en la elección de segunda vuelta para el consejo municipal.

Haz 'click' en el articulo o video abajo para descubrir como las candidatas Randi Shade y Kathy Tovo respondieron a la agenda de Austin Interfaith sobre la seguridad en el trabajo, permisos legados para los taxistas y un sueldo digno.

Artículo

Video

 

La votación temprano comienza Lunes, 6 de Junio y termina el Martes, 14 de Junio.

Los lugares para votar están abiertos entre 7:00 am – 7:00 pm en el Ultimo Día para Votar – Sábado, 18 de Junio.

Para Aprender Donde Votar (utilizando su numero de precinto)

Para Encontrar Donde Votar Utilizando un Mapa


Aprenda mas sobre nuestra lucha para el derecho de participar en las decisiones que afecta programas como la capacitación laboral, los clases de inglés y los programas para los niños después de la escuela. 
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GOTV effort by AI leaders seeks to reverse typically low turnout

So Far, Another Sleepy Austin Election May 7, 2011 4:16 pm by: Erika Aguilar Austin voters have showed little interest in early voting so far this year, says Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. She says less than two percent of registered voters in Travis County have cast ballots for the Austin City Council Elections. “We’ve only had a little more than six thousand people go in person to early vote,” DeBeauvoir said. “That is really, pretty low.” DeBeauvoir is quick to remind people that there are still a few days left in early voting. The deadline is Tuesday. The meager turnout is motivating community members with Austin Interfaith to hit the streets. This weekend the group block-walked in East Austin neighborhoods to remind people to vote. Minerva Camarena Skeith knocked on apartment doors at the Booker T. Washington complex in East Austin. “There are a lot of people who are registered, it’s concentrated, and we can go very quickly,” she said. Travis County’s DeBeauvoir says low voter turnout is usually the norm in City Council elections, especially when there is no Mayor’s race or hot-button initiative on the ballot. ” I think the highest percentage turnout we’ve had is about 13 percent, here, in the most recent years,” DeBeauvoir said. It was the smoking ordinance proposed in the May of 2005 that drew out that modest crowd of voters. DeBeauvoir said she believes people just haven’t gotten around to voting yet. But Minerva Camarena Skeith says some are just confused. “Part of us coming out here walking to encourage people to vote is that you’ll hear these misconceptions and myths about voting or why people don’t vote, and we can both educate but also encourage and make sure there is a purpose for voting,” Camarena Skeith said. Take Janice Bell. She hasn’t voted in five years because she thought she had to register to vote every year in order to cast a ballot. “Ohh, (people are) probably like me. Thinking you have to register every year or if you done change your address, you have to go through a lot more difficulties, you know, so it’s probably just the change,” she said. Whatever the reason, you still have until Tuesday to make your choice. Just take your driver’s license with to any polling center in town. But on Election Day, Saturday, May 14, voters will need to report to their assigned precinct to vote. eaguilar@kut.org
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Press Conference, letters of support

Network of Texas I.A.F. Organizations PRESS STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 5, 2011 FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Paul Skeith, 484-0590 On May 5, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. , The Network of Texas IAF Organizations will hold a press conference calling on the House and Senate to pass a budget that invests in the future of Texas. This includes spending the rainy day fund and finding new sources of revenue to fully fund public education, healthcare, and economic development initiatives like the Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) Fund. The press conference will be held in room E1.026 in the Capitol. “We cannot cut investments that secure our economic future. Education and healthcare are investments in human capital, and the JET fund is designed to help labor markets work more effectively,” said Father Alfonso Guerra of Valley Interfaith. He added “The Senate budget is better than the House budget, but both need to invest more.” Last session, the Network of Texas IAF Organizations worked with Comptroller Susan Combs and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst to create the $25 million Jobs and Education for Texans ( JET ) Fund. This includes the $10 million Launchpad Fund for successful nonprofits such as Capital IDEA in Austin, Project QUEST in San Antonio, Project VIDA in the Rio Grande Valley, and ARRIBA in El Paso. These projects train adults earning on average $10,000 before entering the program for jobs which pay $38,000 on average after graduation. The Network of Texas IAF Organizations also supports greater investments in public education funding and scholarships programs like the Texas Grants. “We understand that these are tough budget times, but failing to adequately invest in workforce and education will weaken our state’s ability to compete economically and attract business,” said Paul Skeith, a leader with Austin Interfaith. “With 68% of Texans without a college education, we need investment in strong public schools that prepare students for college and adult workforce projects that move people out of a cycle of poverty[i].” Attached is a list of Texas business leaders who have written letters in support of reauthorization of the JET fund. The Network of Texas IAF Organizations includes the following organizations: Dallas Area Interfaith, Communities Organized for Public Service, Metro Alliance Border Interfaith, Valley Interfaith, Austin Interfaith, El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, Allied Communities of Tarrant, The Border Organization, The Metropolitan Organization, West Texas Organizing Strategy. Letters of support to the JET Fund: Austin Interfaith Members of the Central Texas Business Community (Martha Smiley, Mark Curry, Jay Hailey, W. Eric Hehman, Earl Maxwell, Adrian Neeley, Allyson Peerman, Pete Winstead) The Austin Diagnostic Clinic (Robert W. Spurck, Jr., FACHE, Chief Executive Officer) Austin Chamber of Commerce (Michael W. Rollins, CCE, President) Real Estate Council of Austin (Jeff Howard, President) EPISO Bank of the West (Burt Blacksher, Executive Vice President) Wells Fargo (Martha Rochford) The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce (Richard E. Dayoub, President and CEO) Hunt Companies, Inc. (Joshua W. Hunt, Senior Vice President) Stephen J. Wolslager The Electric Company, El Paso Electric (Richard Fleager, Senior Vice President, Customer Care and External Affairs) University Medical Center of El Paso (James N. Valenti, President and CEO) Valley Interfaith Brownsville Chamber of Commerce (Angela R. Burton, President and CEO) Valley Regional Medical Center (David Handley, Chief Executive Officer) TMO MFR, Accountants & Consultants (Gasper Mir, III, Pricipal, MFR, P.C.) United Way of Greater Houston (Anna M. Babin, President and CEO) Memorial Hermann Healthcare System (Dan Wolterman, President and CEO) Marek Family of Companies (Stan Marek, CEO) COPS/Metro San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (Ramiro A. Cavazos) Tom Frost Alamo Colleges (Bruce Leslie, Chancellor) Dallas Area Interfaith Baylor University Medical Center (John McWhorter, President
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Interfaith asks tough questions at candidate Accountability Session

In Fact Daily 
April 12, 2011

Interfaith asks tough questions at candidate ‘accountability session’

Español aqui

By Kimberly Reeves and Elizabeth Pagano

 

Austin Interfaith’s Sunday night accountability forum easily will be the largest vetting this election season and probably the toughest crowd any Council candidate will face when choosing to say “no” to a particular issue.

 

Leaders of Austin Interfaith made it clear at that accountability session that it endorsed an agenda, not a candidate, and that a “yes” on an issue from a candidate was an invitation to hold that candidate to his or her word. And, not tosound too menacing, but they had not one, but two, video cameras recording the responses of the candidates for future reference.

 

An estimated 800 or so members of the audience at St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church, a broad cross section of groups, held a yellow sheet, in English and Spanish, and a space to mark “yes” or “no” for each candidate on seven key words: worker safety; homelessness; immigration; living wage; taxi driver legacy permits; attendance at a summit; and public participation.

 

Challengers and incumbents had no problem saying yes to some issues: require OSHA safety training on all construction projects that receive city subsidies or direct city lending; agree to partner with Austin Interfaith clergy to address the shortage of public restrooms and overnight beds for the homeless; and, regardless of what passes the Legislature on immigration reform this session, support the Austin Police Department’s position that its primary role is law enforcement rather than immigration patrol.

 

“My answers are yes, yes and yes,” Council Member Laura Morrison said to the first three questions, to wild applause from the audience. “I look forward to partnering with Austin Interfaith to end homelessness.”

 

One-time Council member Max Nofziger, who is challenging incumbentCouncil Member Randi Shade, also offered a “yes, yes and yes” to a rather favorable response from the crowd.

 

“I believe that we all have an obligation to help our fellow man and woman,” Nofziger told the audience. “I believe that is in the scripture taught here and in the Bible, and I believe that government can be a very powerful tool to help people. That’s what I believe in.”

 

Other candidates had similar responses. Shade challenger Kathie Tovo described helping the homeless as her obligation as a person of faith. In fact, every candidate said “yes” to the first three questions. For your own tally, those who had pre-interviewed and appeared at the forum included Morrison, Nofziger, Shade, Tovo, Roger Chan and Council Member Chris RileyEric Rangel, who is challenging Morrison, sat with his congregation in the audience but had not pre-interviewed with the Austin Interfaith board and, hence, was not allowed to participate in the forum.

 

Other questions were more challenging: require all for-profit companies that receive city subsidies to agree to employee wages of at least $34,000 a year with health care benefits and a career track; support a portable “legacy permit,” or medallion, for cab drivers, so they could switch between employers; and advocate for changes in the city’s lobbying ordinance so non-profits such as Austin Interfaith could speak on behalf of specific city-funded human development programs, as long as Austin Interfaith wasn’t getting funds.

 

Challengers had a far easier time with these questions. Nofziger, for instance, had no problem criticizing Austin as “a playground for the wealthy” when talking about tax breaks. Riley and Shade, on the other hand, ran into trouble giving guarantees to the for-profit living wage proposal. Both preferred to back the current position of the city, which was to require a wage of at least $11 per hour.

 

“I am not committing to the $34,000,” Shade said after some back-and-forth about whether she was an actual “no” on so-called living wage issue. 

Both Shade and Riley also had problems with the taxicab permits, with Riley expressing a need for further review of the proposal. And Shade had to interject that she might support tweaking the city’s lobbying ordinance on behalf of non-profits like Austin Interfaith but that the ordinance, in general, served a purpose.

 

After the meeting, Riley agreed that the taxicab permits might be an issue; he just wasn’t sure of the actual solution, just yet.

 

“Virtually every way in which we regulate taxis needs some work, but that’s not something I’m just going to up and just decree where I am on that. That’s going to involve a long process,” said Riley when asked by In Fact Daily why he did not vow to support taxi driver legacy permits. “I’m absolutely committed to continuing that process, but I’m not going to predetermine the outcome.”

 

Similarly, Riley explained that he was reticent to agree to the total of the living wage requirement for city-subsidized relocating businesses. He explained to In Fact Daily that reluctance was due to the fact that there was perhaps more nuance than simply hourly wage to the issue, and a cutoff at $17 per hour could prevent jobs with good benefits and career tracks from coming to Austin.

 

Riley’s opponent, Roger Chan, told In Fact that he also had concerns about the living wage question, although he ultimately voted yes. Chan said it was the end result that was important, not all of the little things.

 

“If we can balance those components and get what we need, that’s what matters, and the focus on any one may not get you there,” said Chan.

 

Riley told In Fact Daily that he had kept all of his promises to Austin Interfaith in his previous campaign, although he admitted that “there were some disagreements about exactly what commitments were made, during the course of that process.”

 

Gina Hinojosa, a leader with Austin Interfaith spoke with In Fact Daily about whether any of the candidates had broken commitments made at previous accountability sessions.

 

“It has happened,” said Hinojosa, although they chose not to call out any of the candidates at the forum. “It changed the process. Now we have video cameras recording everybody’s answers and professional videographers doing that for us so that we know it’s recorded.” Hinojosa added that past action might have shown the candidates not to “take commitments lightly.”

 

“In the past, we bring our membership down to City Council; we hold them accountable to their commitment. We, if necessary, make phone calls to remind them of their commitment, we get meetings with them, we let our members in our institutions know,” said Hinojosa.

 

“Maybe there were some no’s this time that we didn’t get last time, because they know we’re not going to just walk away when they don’t honor their commitments. We’re going to hold them to it,” said Hinojosa

 

** Traducción hecho por Nidia Oporta de San Jose Catholic Church **

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Interfaith hace preguntas difíciles a los candidatos en`Sesión de Responsabilidad’

In Fact Daily / De Hecho Cotidiano

Abril 12, 2011

Por  Kimberly Reeves y  Elizabeth Pagano

**Traducción hecho por Nidia Oporta de San Jose Catholic Church**

 

El foro de Responsabilidad de Austin Interfaith en la noche del Domingo facilmente sera la revision mas larga de esta temporada de elecciones y probablemente la multitud mas dificil que cualquier candidato para el consejo va a enfrentar cuando escojan decir “no” a cualquier “ asunto particular.

 

Lideres de Austin Interfaith pusieron en claro en la Seccion de responsabilidad que endorsan una agenda, no un candidato y que un “Si” de un candidato a un asunto  era una invitacion a sostener a ese candidato a su palabra. Y no para sonar muy amenazante, pero ellos tenian no una sino dos, camaras de video grabando las respuestas de los candidatos para referencias futuras.

 

Un estimado de mas o menos 800 miembros de la audiencia en laIglesia Catolica San Ignacio Martir, una amplia seccion transversal de los grupos sostenian una pagina amarilla, en Ingles y Español y un espacio para marcar “si” o “no” por cada candidato en siete palabras claves: Seguridad del trabajador; la falta de viviendas de las personas sin hogar; inmigracion; salarios dignos; permisos de legado para conductores de taxi; asistencia a una cumbre; y participacion publica.

 

Oponentes y actuales miembros del consejo no tuvieron problemas diciendo si a algunos asuntos: requerir OSHA entrenamiento de seguridad en todos los proyectos de construccion que reciban subsidios de la ciudad o prestamos directos de la ciudad; estubieron de acuerdo en asociarse al clero de Austin Interfaith para tratar la falta de suficientes baños publicos y camas durante la noche para las personas sin hogar; independientemente de las leyes que pase la Legislatura sobre la reforma migratoria, esta seccion, apoya la posicion del Departmento de Policia de Austin que su function primordial es hacer cumplir la ley en lugar de ser una patrulla de inmigracion.

 

"Mis repuestas son si, si y si," Miembro del Consejo,Laura Morrison dijo a las tres primeras preguntas, para un salvaje aplauso de la audiencia. "Yoespero podercolaborar con Austin Interfaith para poner fin a la falta de viviendas de las personas sin hogar"

 

De una sola vez el miembro del Consejo, Max Nofziger, quien es el oponente a la actual Miembro del Consejo,  Randi Shade, tambien ofrecio un "Si, Si y Si para una  respuesta mas favorable de la multitud.

 

“Yo creo que todos nosotros tenemos una obligacion de ayudar a nuestro projimo”, “Nofziger dijo a la audiencia. “Yo creo que esta en la escritura enseñada aqui y en la biblia y yo creo que el gobierno puede ser una herramienta poderosa para ayudar a la gente. Eso es en lo que yo creo."

 

Otros candidatos tuvieron respuestas similares. La oponente de Shade, Kathie Tovo describio que era su obligacion el ayudar a las personas sin hogar como una persona de fe. En realidad, cada candidato dijo "si" a las primeras tres preguntas. Para tu propia cuenta, esos quienes habian sido previamente entrevistados y aparecieron en el foro incluyen a, Morrison, Nofziger, Shade, Tovo, Roger Chan y miembro del Consejo Chris RileyEric Rangel, quien es el oponente de Morrison, se sento con su congregacion en la audiencia pero no habia sido pre- entrevistado por el consejo de Austin Interfaith y, por lo tanto, no se le permitio participar en el foro.

 

Otras preguntas fueron mas retantes: requerir que todos las compañias de lucro que reciban subsidios de la ciudad que esten de acuerdo en pagar a los empleados por lo menos $34,000 al año con beneficios de cuidados de salud, un seguimiento en su profesion; apoyar "permiso legado," o medallon, para taxistas, de manera que ellos puedan cambiar entre empleadores; y abogar por cambios en la ordenanza de la ciudad sobre los grupos de presion o interes de manera que  grupos sin fines de lucro como Austin Interfaith puedan hablar en el nombre de programas especificos de desarrollo humano financiados por la ciudad, siempre y cuando Austin Interfaith no este recibiendo fondos de esos programas.

 

Oponentes tuvieron un tiempo mucho mas facil con estas preguntas. Nofziger, por ejemplo, no tuvo problema criticando a Austin como  "un patio de recreo para los ricos" cuando hablaban acerca de recorte de impuestos. Riley and Shade, al contrario, tuvieron problema dando garantias a la propuesta de salarios dignos por lucro. Ambos prefirieron respaldar la posicion actual de la ciudad, la cual require un salario de por lo menos $11 por hora.

 

"Yo no me comprometo a los $34,000," Shade dijo después de algunas idas y venidas acerca de si ella era un verdadero "no" en el llamado asunto de salarios dignos.

Ambos Shade y Riley tambien tuvieron problemas con los permisos de taxistas, con Riley expresando una necesidad de una nueva revision de la propuesta. Y Shade interpone que podría apoyar ajustar la ordenanza de la ciudad sobre los grupos de interes en nombre de organizaciones no lucrativas como Austin Interfaith, pero que la ordenanza, en general, sirve un propósito.

Despues de la junta, Riley estuvo de acuerdo que los permisos de taxistas podrian ser un problema; él noestaba segurode lasoluciónreal, todavia. 

     "Virtuamente todas las maneras en las que nosotros regulamos los taxis necesitan algo de trabajo, pero eso no es algo que sólo voy arriba y solo decreto donde estoy en eso.Eso va a implicar un proceso largo", dijo Riley cuando In Fact Daily le pregunto por qué el no voto en apoyo a los permisos legados de los conductores de taxi. “Yo estoy absolutamente comprometido a continuar ese proceso, pero yo no voy a predeterminar el resultado."

     Similarmente, Riley explico que el estabareticente a aceptar el total de la obligación de salarios dignos para la relocalización de empresas subsidiadas por la ciudad. El explico a In Fact Daily que la renuencia se debía al hechoque había posiblementemas matices en el asunto que simplemente los salarios por hora, y un punto de corte a partir de $17 por hora podrían impedir que vinieran a Austin los trabajos con buenos beneficios y un seguimiento en la profecion.

     El oponente de Riley, Roger Chan, dijo a In Fact que el tambien tenia preocupaciones acerca de la pregunta de salarios dignos aunque el ultimadamente voto si. Chan dijo fue el resultado final que era importante, no todas las pequeñas cosas.

     "Si nosotros podemos balancear esos componentes y conseguir lo que necesitamos, eso es lo que importa, y el enfoque en cualquiera de esos podria no llevarte alla,” dijo Chan.

     Riley dijo a In Fact Daily que el habia cumplido todas sus promesas a Austin Interfaith en su campaña previa, aunque el admitió que “hubieron unos desacuerdos acerca de exactamente que compromisos fueron hechos, durante el curso de ese proceso.”

     Gina Hinojosa, una lider con Austin Interfaith hablo con In Fact Daily acerca desi alguno de los candidatos había roto los compromisos contraídos en las seciones de responsabilidad anteriores.

     "Esto ha ocurrido," dijo Hinojosa, aunque ellos optaron por no llamar a ninguno de los candidatos en el foro “ Cambió el proceso. Ahora tenemos cámaras de video grabando las respuestas de todos y profesionales del vídeo que hacen esto por nosotros para que sepamos que es grabado." Hinojosa agregó que la acción pasada podría haber mostrado a los candidatos a no "asumir compromisos a la ligera."

     "En el pasado, llevamos a nuestros miembros hasta el Consejo de la ciudad; los hacemos responsables de su compromiso Nosotros, si es necesario, hacemos llamadas telefónicas para recordarles su compromiso, tenemos reuniones con ellos, les dejamos saber a nuestros miembros en nuestras instituciones,” dijo Hinojosa.

      "Quizas hubieron algunos no esta vez que nosotros no obtuvimos la ultima vez por que ellos saben que nosotros no vamos solamente a alejarnos cuando ellos no cumplan sus compromisos. Nosotros los vamos a responsabilizar por ellos." dijo Hinojosa

 

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Victory Pages March 2011

Austin Interfaith Victory Pages A newsletter on the successes of Austin Interfaith member institutions March 18, 2011 · Pre-Kindergarten Saved: Even though state funding was dropped from all day Pre-Kindergarten, it was spared from being cut from the AISD budget. Pre-Kindergarten is an issue priority for Austin Interfaith and leaders began meeting with the Superintendent months ago on this issue. · Dove Springs Clinic Expansion: Last month the board of the Central Health District voted to expand the clinic on William Cannon & I-35. The $800,000 expansion will help serve the many underserved residents of southeast Austin from an urgent triage clinic to medical home. Austin Interfaith has worked for the expansion of basic services in Dove Springs. · Innovation Grant Progress: Leaders working on the Innovation School initiative asked AISD School Board Trustees to ratify a fair In-District (or Campus) Charter Policy that makes a way for public schools to petition the district make change at the campus level. At a board meeting earlier this year the trustees ratified the new policy. Since then leaders have met with the Superintendent and her senior cabinet to discuss the initiative. House Meetings Progress: Since the start of the new-year Austin Interfaith leaders have held 120 house meetings with approximately 1000 people. Through these small group conversations leaders have identified more local issues, ranging from anxieties around school closures, job loss, issues facing immigrant families, and neighborhood safety. All member institutions are encouraged to do events with house meetings through March. House meetings are one of the key elements for organizing. Education Organizing: On Wednesday, February 09, 2011 over 140 parents, teachers and community members from several schools, congregations, and neighborhood associations from the south side met at Travis Heights Elementary. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together a broad constituency that supports adequate funding for public schools and values neighborhood schools. After a briefing about both the budget decisions made, thus far, by the AISD school board and alternative proposals leaders gathered in small groups to hold conversations about how the proposed cuts affected their children and their families. They also began conversations about what they were willing to do in order to ensure that the schools and the students received the adequate funding necessary for an effective public school system. Senator Kirk Watson’s aide on education attended the meeting. Neighborhood Safety in Dove Springs: Austin Interfaith leaders in Southeast Austin / “Dove Springs” held a meeting on Thursday, February 3, with l00 people at Widen Elementary School. The community shared how criminal activity occurring on their streets, in parks and fear of being victimized again. Austin Interfaith leaders, Pastors, residents, school staff, Commander Pedraza, PCT 4 Constable Canchola, Ms. Santana of Rep. Rodriguez’s office, and several City of Austin departments: Parks/Recreation, Austin Public Library, APD Gang Prevention, Neighborhood Planning and Development were in attendance. Principal Kim Royal proposed to the community and guests a “No Excuse” contract that ask everyone present to commit to work together to rebuild and reclaim our neighborhood. Everyone present signed the commitment. NEXT STEPS · Austin Interfaith Leaders Meeting, Thurs., March 24 at 7:00 pm. Location: Cristo Rey Catholic Church · Austin Interfaith Spring Accountability Session, Sunday, April 10 at 7:00pm. Location TBA
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Victory Pages – January 2011

Austin Interfaith Victory Pages A newsletter on the successes of Austin Interfaith member institutions January 26, 2011 New Member Institution: Austin Interfaith proudly welcomes St. John’s Lutheran Church as our newest member institution. St. John's has both English and Spanish worship services, and is located just south of Ben White near S. 1st street. They join St. Ignatius, Wildflower Unitarian, Prince of Peace Lutheran, San Jose, and Travis Heights Elementary as part of our Southside cluster. We look forward to our collaboration. Leadership Development – During January-March of 2011 Austin Interfaith institutions will be focused on leadership development through house meetings, civic academies, and local trainings. So far in the past three weeks over 200 leaders attended trainings and civic academies…and 30 house meetings were held with 300 people. Below are some of the highlights: Education Organizing Institute – On Saturday, January 8, 40 leaders from Austin Interfaith congregations, AISD schools, and Education Austin attended the first Austin Interfaith Education Leadership Institute. The focus was on equipping a collective of parents, educators, and community members with the skills necessary to improve student achievement by addressing issues facing families and schools. Austin Police Commander Pedraza attends AI safety action in Dove Springs with 30 leaders – San Jose Catholic Church hosted small group “house meetings” with APD commander Pedraza and 10 other officers as well as a county deputy and constable and 30 members of the Dove Springs Community. This was in response to yet another vandalization of a San Jose parishioner’s car the previous week. The purpose was for APD and the county to hear stories of crime incidents in this southeast Austin neighborhood. A follow up meeting is set for February 3, at 6:30 pm at Widen Elementary School. Chamber of Commerce official speaks at San Jose Civic Academy on Scholarships – San Jose Catholic Church hosted a “Civic Academy” on college scholarships on January 10. Access and affordability to college was addressed this past year through a small group “house meeting” campaign at San Jose. Gilbert Zavala from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce presented on financial aid availability. College affordability has been identified a pressing issue by several Austin Interfaith member congregations, many of which offer scholarship programs of their own from fundraisers. AISD Budget 101 workshop presented to AI leaders by top brass at school district – Fifteen leaders talked with Austin Independent School District Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Assistant to Superintendent, Chief Human Capital Officer Michael Houser about the drastic budget reductions for 2011/2012. In the current proposal, full day pre-k is maintained, which was an item Austin Interfaith leaders have been advocating for. They also discussed next steps for the Innovation School project, a joint-initiative with Education Austin to partner with AISD schools. 40 leaders attend AI leadership training at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church – On December 18th, 40 leaders from Austin Interfaith institutions attended a leadership training focused on the scriptural basis for social justice and the elements of a Broad-Based Organization. We plan to offer these trainings on a monthly basis for new and experienced leaders. Next Steps: 1. AUSTIN INTERFAITH MONTHLY LEADERS MEETING – CHANGED TO 4TH THURSDAY OF EVERY MONTH. NEXT LEADERS MEETING THURSDAY, JANUARY 27TH AT 7pm AT SAN JOSE CATHOLIC CHURCH (2435 Oak Crest, Austin 78704) 2. AUSTIN INTERFAITH CLERGY CAUCUS – Thursday, January 27th, 12:00-1:30, St. David’s Episcopal Church (301 E. 8th Street, Austin 78701). Please RSVP to Austin Interfaith office as St. David’s will be providing lunch.
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Who picks up the slack for city’s incentives? OP-ED

Camarena-Skeith and Malfaro: Who picks up the slack for city's incentives?
Minerva Camarena-Skeith and Louis Malfaro, Local Contributors
Published: 6:06 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010

The American-Statesman article "Medical firm eyes a move to Austin" (Jan. 6) quotes Mayor Lee Leffingwell about a subsidy deal he is negotiating with Hanger Orthopedic Group Inc. of Bethesda, Md., to relocate to the Domain.

Leffingwell promises that the deal with Hanger will be "cash-positive" for the city. But any time a company is given substantial tax abatements, other taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab for increased city services like police, fire protection and infrastructure. If the jobs do not pay living wages, families are left dependent on public assistance at taxpayer expense.

Austin Interfaith believes that the city should encourage potential employers to locate in Central Texas using our quality of life, skilled work force, schools and institutions of higher learning as selling points — the factors that business leaders repeatedly mention when selecting a site for their business.

City officials should not subsidize private companies unless those companies agree in writing to pay high wages and benefits, hire locally and provide career advancement for their workers.

Between 2000 and 2007, the City of Austin gave $64 million in public tax subsidies to companies that created 1,400 jobs — about $46,000 per job. This is why we believe these jobs should pay living wages of at least $18 an hour ($37,000 a year) with benefits and a career ladder.

To put this in perspective, $18 an hour translates to $37,000 a year. It is below the average wage in Texas — $18.90 an hour.

A family of four becomes eligible for city social service assistance when it earns less than $21.20 an hour. We oppose using tax dollars to subsidize low-wage jobs.

The City Council approved a $508 million water treatment plant, wants to build a $32 million wastewater tunnel to service future luxury downtown condos and is considering a $600 million rail line to connect the downtown business district to the airport and the University of Texas.

While we are not against infrastructure spending per se, we are very concerned about the impact these decisions will have on poor and working families as well as small businesses. This burden is increased when new companies are given tax subsidies or abatements.

Economic pressures on families and on city, county, school district, Austin Community College and health district budgets are exacerbated during tough economic times like these. Austin's poverty rate — child and adult — is higher than the national average. Investing in education, effective work force development and good jobs are the best use of our tax dollars.

Any deal in which working families are asked to use their tax dollars to subsidize private businesses should be done judiciously, and only when companies guarantee that the jobs they bring are high-wage jobs that provide a true return on the public's investment.

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Council considers rules/standards for incentives

In Fact Daily: (posted on web for subscribers only; text pasted below and attached)

Three companies scouting city as Council considers new rules for incentives

Three companies involved in the manufacturing of solar panels are interested in moving their operations to Austin, according to Mayor Lee Leffingwell. Though nothing has been put in writing, Leffingwell has met with representatives from those companies, and, he said Wednesday, “all three are very seriously considering Austin.”

According to the mayor, one of the companies would like to be operational by next summer, though the process would involve several months of lead time even after an agreement with the city was reached. That company, Leffingwell said, is interested in moving into a shell rather than erecting a building from the ground up.

The mayor said he is encouraged by the news: “I have said, ever since 2005, that targeted industries, like those in the renewable energy business, would be specifically the ones we would want to talk to about coming to Austin.”

So, any changes to the city’s economic incentives policy—such as those being considered at today’s City Council meeting—are not just an academic exercise.

The Council is expected to approve an ordinance establishing an enhanced economic incentive proposal review process. That would require a formal cost-benefit analysis as part of the city's evaluation process for economic incentive agreements including “direct and indirect costs of such proposals.” It would also implement a timeline of 13 days to allow citizens to review and comment on any economic-incentive proposals before the Council could take action on them.

The ordinance is the result of a February Council resolution directing the city manager to convene a stakeholders group – made up of members of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Capital City African-American Chamber of Commerce, Liveable City, and Austin Interfaith – to consider elements of city policy concerning economic incentives. The group met on three occasions in March, April, and July to discuss the implementation of the cost-benefit analysis as well as a timeline for the city’s review process.

One issue the stakeholders group did not make a determination on concerns wages and benefits for workers employed by companies that receive tax incentives from the city. This is a concern for Austin Interfaith and other citizens’ organizations, which see the issue as vital to the economic and social future of the city. These groups want the Council to ensure that any companies receiving incentives from the city provide their employees with a living wage (no less than $18 an hour), health benefits, and clear paths to advancement within the company, and that those companies have a strategy to hire local workers.

According to Austin Interfaith Strategy Team member Minerva Camarena Skeith, these groups are concerned that economic incentives without built-in safeguards for local workers might cripple the economy. “We want to make sure,” she said, “that our tax dollars are being spent on bringing high-quality jobs to Texas, not just providing breaks for corporations. If companies are going to be profiting off our incentives, they should have to provide for the city and its citizens.”

“We have to ask ourselves: Is Austin is going to be a city of low-wage workers, or are we going to set a higher standard?”

According to Skeith, at accountability sessions Interfaith Austin held during this year’s elections, all current members of the City Council, including Leffingwell, made commitments to support worker protections in any economic-incentive legislation. “We’re confident,” says Skeith, “that the council members will honor their commitments.”

But one council member, Sheryl Cole, says she is concerned that such a proposal could have unintended consequences for the city. “I simply do not want us, in the interest of helping our work force earn more and receive more benefits,” Cole said, “to operate under a faulty premise and keep economic opportunities out of Austin for the most vulnerable members of our society.

“I certainly support living wages and health benefits. I am, however, concerned that we do not take any actions that have a negative impact on our unemployed and underemployed, such that we are not granting incentives to help those most in need of social-service assistance. I do, however, think that the ordinance can be drafted in such a way that we do not exclude any companies that have jobs that would be available to the most vulnerable members of our society but … that cannot pay the living wage or health benefits,”

Leffingwell, for his part, believes health benefits should be a necessary component of the city’s economic incentive agreements. “I don't see how the city could enter into an agreement with any company,” he said, “that did not provide the opportunity to have basic health insurance for its employees.”

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