AUSTIN — It’s Christmas season in Texas’ capital city, a time when many Austinites are putting up colorful lights and festive decorations or putting in extra hours at work to afford a special time with loved ones. It’s also the time when one villain is busy roaming the streets, threatening to steal away everyone’s cheer and dreams of prosperity.
Alright, theatrics aside, the reality isn’t far off: the Austin City Council is the Grinch who keeps taking everyone’s money.
For the past decade, the city council has constantly chosen to raise taxes—8 percent every year, to be exact. In 2008, they were taking $705 per year from the median homeowner. Now, just 11 years later, they’re taking over $1,400.
If you’re doing the math, that’s 100 percent more in taxes. Double. (And that doesn’t even include the soaring tax bills from school districts and counties.)
The council is plundering Austinites’ wallets like the Grinch ransacked poor Cindy Lou Who’s fridge, only they’re taking taxpayer cash instead of Who Hash. And with the city taxing Austinites more and more each year, many families don’t have enough left for their bills, much less holiday cheer.
“When I bought this house 22 years ago, my property taxes were [roughly] $2,800 a year, which was doable,” said homeowner Brendan Sipple. “Now, they are $9,000.”
Sipple, a single father in north Austin, says that because local governments have cleaned out his wallet, he soon might not be able to afford his own home.
“It does worry me. I think about it all the time,” he said. “At what point do I say I can’t do it anymore?”
A recent report by United Way detailed the dire consequences from the local government’s looting. According to the analysis, an astonishing 42 percent of Austin families are now struggling to pay their bills.
“These are people who are working hard and working full-time,” said David C. Smith, president of the United Way for Greater Austin. “They’re just still barely getting by and struggling.”
Even worse, the Austin City Council hasn’t just looted families, but iconic businesses too. Just in the past two years, the council has been instrumental in forcing more than 50 downtown local businesses to close; many were culture-defining establishments, including Threadgill’s World Headquarters, The Frisco, and Hill’s Café.
“Property taxes have just gone through the roof,” said Eddie Wilson, owner of the iconic Threadgill’s, now closed after over 40 years in business. “It wasn’t really a decision I made. It was a decision made for me, by circumstance.”
Wilson’s monthly rent in 2018 was over $40,000, a staggering 350 percent higher than it was five years ago. His rent shot up because government officials were hungry for his money, with a ravenous appetite he couldn’t feed just by selling affordably priced chicken-fried steak and burgers.
Kind of sounds like the Grinch piling up his sleigh with bags of the Whos’ special belongings, but that’s, of course, a fictional story with no relation to reality.
The question remains: why does the Austin City Council keep taking so much from families?
In short, because the council keeps spending a ton. And they waste even more.
Austin City Council spends over $4,000 per man, woman, and child—roughly double what city officials in Dallas or Houston pay out. And how Austin’s officials spend that cash raises serious questions as to if they’ve had a little too much eggnog.
For example, consider the $1 billion they spent on an ill-advised biomass power plant that produced energy for only six months; the whole project has since been shut down because it was such an expensive disaster.
Or how about the $140 million overspent on a flawed tunnel, $450,000 blown on two public toilets, $115,000 tossed to clean one public toilet, and the millions they literally gave away millions to citizens who simply emailed the city asking for cash?
But despite how the council throws around money, they keep taking more of it, and Austin families keep struggling.
Interestingly, at the end of the Grinch’s story, he finally realized that stealing all of the Whos things truly hurt the Whos in Whoville. He decided to give back what he’d taken, and everyone rejoiced and had a merry Christmas.
Maybe the council will do the same?
Or maybe they’ll leave “doing the right thing” to the fictional stories.