CENTRAL TEXAS — After government officials shut down cities across the Austin area and forced at least 132,000 citizens out of work, local officials are now considering taking more of their cash.

City officials in Austin and surrounding suburbs, including Round Rock and Pflugerville, have been meeting recently to discuss their new tax rates and budgets for the upcoming year. Instead of cutting wasteful spending and responsibly handling citizens’ hard-earned money, they’re planning to simply collect more cash.

The Austin City Council, after initially discussing an 8 percent tax increase, is now considering increasing property taxes by only 3.5 percent—the maximum amount before they have to ask voters’ permission for more cash due to recent state law. Up until last year’s Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act passed by the state legislature, local officials could—and frequently did—raise taxes up to 8 percent without having to ask for voters’ approval.

Austin officials’ tax hike would mean taking roughly $20 more from the median homeowner; however, the council is already taxing them 100 percent more than they did just 12 years ago. In 2008, the median tax bill was $700; now, it’s over $1,400.

Last week, the Pflugerville City Council also discussed snatching 8 percent more cash from citizens without permission, citing a disaster declaration loophole in the recent property tax law. However, after citizen testimony and protest, the council ultimately voted to “continue budget calculations” before making a final decision.

“The law is trying to prevent the city from sharply raising taxes like this,” one citizen told the council last week. “Cities like Pflugerville are trying to use this emergency declaration loophole to raise taxes.”

This week, the Round Rock City Council proposed raising the tax rate slightly above the “no-new-revenue rate”, meaning the council would take more cash in total from citizens than they did last year. The council is already charging the average city homeowner roughly $300 more annually than they did just six years ago.

And raising property taxes doesn’t just harm homeowners; it strains everyone across the city, raising apartment rents, grocery store bills, restaurant prices, etc.

The question remains: Do these local governments really need to take more money from citizens? Officials have lamented not having as much in sales tax revenue—which was caused by their own shutdowns. But given how they spend the citizens’ cash they already have, the money is probably best left in the wallets of citizens currently struggling to afford food and rent.

For instance, the Austin City Council has spent $115,000 to clean one public toilet, $156,000 on holiday parties just last December (more than Dallas and Houston combined), $450,000 to buy two public toilets, $140 million over-budget on a flawed tunnel project, and $1 billion on an ill-advised biomass power plant disaster that produced energy for only six months and has since been shut down.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Meanwhile, the Round Rock City Council has continuously made unjust special deals with hand-picked corporations, giving them citizens’ cash and exclusive perks not available to normal working citizens—such as not having to pay taxes. The council has given tens of millions of citizens’ dollars away in favors to massive corporations such as Dell, IKEA, Emerson, and Kalahari Resorts.

The Pflugerville City Council has also made the same unjust and wasteful deals as Round Rock—they even did it as recently as this month, giving corporate behemoth Amazon $3.8 million in perks, then turning around and complaining to citizens that they don’t have enough money for essential services.

Amid all of the local officials’ cash grabs and special deals, the normal, hard-working citizens are suffering to make ends meet.

Unless citizens contact their local officials before tax rates are finalized over the next two months, their situation may only get worse.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.