San Antonio – However Mayor Ron Nirenberg might choose to describe the “State of the City” Tuesday evening, the word “unusual” could easily be a substitute.
The annual address will be delivered at 7 p.m. on KSAT 12, amid a pandemic that has shut down the city to varying degrees for weeks. Whereas previous State of the City address (2018 and 2019) have revolved around a variety issues from housing to transportation this year will likely have a singular focus -- the COVID-19 pandemic.
With that in mind, here are some topics to expect.
1. PANDEMIC MANAGEMENT
While Nirenberg and Judge Nelson Wolff have provided daily briefings since late March, Tuesday’s address will likely allow for a summary of the ongoing efforts to curtail the virus. Though San Antonio has had fewer cases and deaths than other Texas cities, Nirenberg has remained cautious about declaring any victories.
The speech is bound to be laced with references to the progress and warning indicators the city tracks as part of its COVID-19 dashboard. The city has also overseen efforts to ramp up testing capacity, distribute safety supplies to small businesses, and promote a “Greater. SAfer. Together” campaign to increase consumer confidence in local businesses.
2. REOPENING SAN ANTONIO
While Gov. Greg Abbott has taken the lead on determining which businesses and activities can resume operations and when, Nirenberg has repeatedly said the city will continue to keep an eye on the local situation. Though the mayor says the city and state are currently aligned in their intent to open up the economy in phases, he has also indicated the city might push back against loosening up restrictions if the local outbreak takes a turn for the worse.
3. COVID-19 RECOVERY PLANS
As part of the CARES Act, the city received $270 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The money is meant to help with unbudgeted expenses related to the pandemic. The city council is set to vote on a $191 million “recovery & resiliency” plan Thursday that would use some of those dollars, along with city funds and other federal grants, on a variety of programs, including rental assistance, grants for micro businesses, job training, and connecting students to in-home internet access.
A proponent of the plan, Nirenberg has said the city should try to aim for more than returning to the status quo and will likely push the plan again in his speech.
“If we’re doing our jobs right, we’re understanding a majority of people have been affected by this economic crisis and they’re teetering on the edge. They want action,” Nirenberg told council members after a presentation on May 28.
4. CITY BUDGET SHORTFALL
The city’s $2.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2020 faces an expected $198.6 million shortfall thanks to plummeting tax and special revenues resulting from the pandemic. The city has already taken measures to balance the budget for the rest of the year, but that has included things like furloughing employees and cutting arts funding. The city manager has also warned of a rough budget year for fiscal 2021.
5. MASS TRANSIT FUNDING
It was a cause he raised in his first State of the City address in 2018 with the creation of Connect SA, and Mayor Ron Nirenberg was poised to make mass transit funding the hallmark issue of his second term before the COVID-19 pandemic hit San Antonio. Nirenberg strongly backed a plan to divert a soon-to-expire 1/8 cent sales tax to VIA Metropolitan Transit. However, the tax is currently used for the Linear Creek Parkways and the popular Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP_.
Though the mayor said it would not be an “either or” choice between funding mass transit and the EAPP -- just a matter of their sources -- the tax must still be approved by voters.
Since the pandemic has hit San Antonio, the sales tax issue has taken a back seat, and the mayor has been noncommittal about its future. Whether Nirenberg mentions it at all in his speech would be worth noting.
Additionally, the tax’s current use will only expire once it reaches a certain collection threshold. So the general nosedive sales tax revenues are taking means the current tax may hang around a bit longer anyways.
WATCHING THE ADDRESS
KSAT 12 will broadcast the address at 7 p.m. on air and online.