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Dueling Austin PACs each raise over $1M in battle over public safety staffing, funding

If Proposition A passes, the Austin Police Department would gain staffing and funding, while the Austin Fire Department and ATCEMS would lose both

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Nicole Foy
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — The two main political action committees dueling over an Austin police staffing ballot measure that would drain fire department funds have each raised more than $1 million in the lead-up to next week’s vote.

According to campaign finance records due Monday, the Equity PAC, which is linked to the " No Way on Prop A” campaign, reported $1,064,727.41 in political contributions from Sept. 24 thru Oct. 23, according to documents filed with the city.

Save Austin Now, the political action committee that collected signatures to get the police staffing measure on the Nov. 2 ballot, reported raising $1,013,896.86 during the same period, according to documents filed with the city.

If approved by voters, Prop A’s police staffing measures would start with requiring the city to employ two officers per 1,000 residents. A second provision would mandate that 35% of an officer’s shift must be spent on uncommitted time — often referred to as community engagement time — and not in responding to calls.

To ensure that shifts are staffed adequately, city staffers say even more than two officers per 1,000 residents are needed. The true ratio, they say, is somewhere between 2.1 per 1,000 and 2.5 per 1,000.

Weighing police attrition rates against Austin’s current population and projected growth, the city would need to hire 403 to 885 more officers in the next five years, according to the city’s math. The cost to do that is $271.5 million to $598.8 million, according to an analysis from the city. Save Austin Now has disputed those estimates.

To come up with the money, the city could have to cut funding for other departments, Mayor Steve Adler and some Austin City Council members have said.

Prior to the May election on the homeless camping ban, which Save Austin Now also got on the ballot, the PAC raised $1.9 million. That total was a near record in a citywide election, trailing only a campaign funded by ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft in 2016 to oppose a city vote on regulations for ride-hailing service drivers.

The Equity PAC reported that $960,000 of the money it raised in this most recent reporting period came from corporations or labor organizations, including a previously reported $500,000 contribution from billionaire activist George Soros’ Open Society Foundation. No Way on Prop A supporters have cited this as evidence of one of the largest and most diverse coalitions of organizations coming together to oppose the measure.

“I think that it just goes to show the implications that Prop A has on policing, on cuts to other essential services like fire and EMS,” said No Way on Prop A campaign manager Laura Hernandez Holmes. “It just goes to show how much folks on the ground care about this, but also progressive organizations that have that are familiar with the criminal justice reform movement.”

Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak said the majority of the money raised by his group came from individuals and businesses in the Austin area, citing more 1,900 individual donations. Among the donors to Save Austin Now were Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who gave $10,000, and Phil Canfield, CEO of Austin-based Ariet Capital, who gave $75,000, according to documents filed with the city.

Save Austin Now also received wide support from law enforcement groups across the state. Law enforcement associations in Corpus Christi, Harris County, El Paso, San Antonio, McAllen and Bexar County contributed thousands to Save Austin Now.

“We’ve had hundreds, if not thousands, of small or smaller contributions,” Mackowiak said. “We’re proud of the overwhelming and diverse financial support that we received.”

The Austin Police Association, the largest union for Austin police officers, previously announced support for Prop A, while the Austin Fire Department and Austin EMS associations are opposing the measure, saying it could result in reduced funding and services from their departments.