AUSTIN POLITICS ARE the nuttiest in the state. It all stems from an obsession with quality of life, and nothing quite brings out the daffiness like a threat to the city’s beloved Barton Springs. Even as a two-year legal battle continues to rage over development upstream on Barton Creek, a new menace has called citizens to arms. “Now we must guard against threats of commercialization within 350 feet of the pool which would destroy the very nature of Austin’s most treasured park,” warned a flyer headlined ZILKER PARK FOR $ ALE. And what might this threat be? A shopping mall? An office building? No, much more sinister: a carousel.
Back in 1989 (these fights go on for years) the local children’s museum thought that an old-fashioned carousel would be a nice audition to Zilker Park. Later a broadcast consultant named Robert Simmons sought a concession from the city to operate a carousel with a Texas theme—jackrabbits, armadillos, and bucking broncos instead of the usual horses—and a calliope. But the guardians of Barton Springs mobilized against the “Zilker Park Carousellout.”
The fight reached the Austin City Council in September. Opponents argued that a park ought to be a place where people can walk in quiet contemplation. Never mind that the carousel was planned for a site near the children’s playscape, hardly a spot for quiet contemplation, especially since a miniature railroad with a hearty whistle runs right through the area. “It’s unbelievable you would add carousel noise to the sounds of nature and people having fun,” one opponent told the council. A carousel supporter suggested, “People who want to hear birds and meditate don’t hang out by the playscape.” But it was no use. The council instructed the city staff to look for an alternate site, and Barton Springs was saved—until the next crisis.
WHAT’S NEW? Certainly not the school-finance crisis, which the Legislature will try to solve for the zillionth time in the special session set for mid-November. For the first time, however, there are signs of agreement about what kind of plan is the best way to end the stalemate. The Texas Association of School Boards and the plaintiffs in the school-finance lawsuit (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a group of impoverished school districts called the Equity Center) are moving toward accepting the idea of a “limited recapture” plan. The state’s wealthiest school districts—around 10 percent of all districts would be taxed to provide money for poor districts. No other districts would be affected. Every district would be free to “enrich” the amount of money provided by the state by raising local tax dollars. The hated county education districts would be abolished. And if the plan passes the Legislature and is approved in a constitutional amendment next May, the schools will no longer face a judge’s order to close on June 1, 1993.
Revenge Is Sour
SOME DEMOCRATIC state senators are still adjusting to the fact that Texas is a two-party state. They are mightily offended—and plotting revenge—because state treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchinson and agriculture commissioner Rick Perry, both Republicans, are campaigning to help elect more Republican senators. The GOP currently just has 9 senators out of 31, but by winning every marginal district, they could emerge with a majority. They are a virtual cinch to end up with at least 11 seats—enough to block Ann Richards’ appointments and, under Senate procedure, prevent any legislation from passing. The unhappy Democrats are threatening to gut the budgets of Hutchinson’s and Perry’s agencies next year, transfer the treasurer’s duties to the state comptroller John Sharp and the agriculture department’s duties to Texas A&M, and leave Hutchinson and Perry with nothing but a title and a secretary. The trouble with this idea is that the Democrats will make martyrs of Hutchinson and Perry, strengthening them for a possible 1994 race against governor Ann Richards or Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock.