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Major Endorsements Announced For Proposition B On Nov. 3rd

Around 50 local and state elected officials and community leaders on Saturday endorsed passage of Proposition B, the SA Ready To Work initiative, on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The initiative calls for the redirection of $154 million in sales tax revenue from aquifer protection to retrain local workers who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August, 68,000 workers were collecting unemployment.

It does not involve a sales tax increase.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the virus is not done taking a toll on the local economy.

“As permanent business closures rise, it’s estimated that some one quarter of the jobs lost amid the pandemic might never come back,” he said.

Local leaders have said many of those job losses hit one of the city’s biggest industries -- leisure and hospitality. Marriott Hotels, for example, recently laid off more than 700 workers at local hotels.

Nirenberg said many of those workers can learn higher skills for higher paying jobs.

He added that the training programs are ones sought by local industries to train local skilled workers to fill them.

“Targeted industries will include manufacturing, logistics, aerospace, bioscience, healthcare, financial services, technology, cyber security, construction, and trades,” Nirenberg said.

If Proposition B is approved, it would target 40,000 workers who lost their jobs for retraining. The training would also include stipends and daycare support to prevent trainees from dropping out due to economic reasons.

The mayor said the city has previously launched another job training initiative that could absorb 10,000 of the unemployed for job retraining. Bexar County has launched its counterpart under the Bexar County Strong program.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said if voters act now the area could emerge economically stronger after the pandemic.

“Most cities that develop and train a good workforce are the ones that are going to prosper in the future,” he said. “Now, as we all know, we lost a number of jobs, many of them low paying jobs. There is an opportunity to change that and get them trained for good high-paying jobs.”

Julian Castro and Henry Cisneros, two former Housing and Urban Development secretaries and former San Antonio mayors, also spoke up for passage of Proposition B on Saturday.

Castro said Proposition B could strengthen the city’s economic future, much like the visionary plan SA2020 he supported as mayor. He said SA2020 set goals that added more diversity to the local economy.

He said it’s time to help end “the knock” San Antonio has against it as a low-paying, “service sector town.”

“This opportunity on November 3rd to pass Proposition B to make San Antonio ready to work I see as one more step in that progress to put people to work by giving them the skills and education they need to be ready to take on those better jobs,” Castro said.

Cisneros said there is a simple argument for passage of the proposition.

“Low skills equals low wages. High skills equals high wages,” he said. "No way around that mathematical formula. Now around that law.”

Cisneros said passage of the proposition is not just important for those struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.

“This is not a measure for poor people alone,” he said. “We’re not doing something somehow for the quote, 'the underclass.' This is for the economy of our city as a whole. A city cannot function if there is not a strong economic floor, a middle class, and we’ve been missing that for a good part of our history.”

Some local leaders have criticized redirecting funds away from the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program and linear creekways and giving more responsibility to the San Antonio Water System for aquifer protection.

They fear SAWS will have to raise water rates to take on a bigger aquifer watchdog role.

But Wolff said the county has already stepped in to fund linear creekway projects, and more may be coming.

“We’re going to be committed to doing that and getting the greenway of trails. We’ve already invested probably $400 million in the creek and the river already, so it’s a really top spot for us to do,” he said.

The most prominent project has been the San Pedro Creek Culture Park project, a linear park that cuts through 2.2-miles of west downtown San Antonio.

He said commissioners in April will look at spending another $240 million on linear creekway projects. Commissioners have delayed all new capital improvement projects until then to see what impact the pandemic will have on property tax revenues.

If voters approve Proposition B, it would divert the aquifer protection sales taxes to job training until December 2025.

Local chambers of commerce, the San Antonio Catholic Archdiocese, educational leaders, and several community activists also came out in support of the proposition on Saturday.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian