As government shutdowns have forced nearly 130,000 Austinites out of work and potentially into a crisis of not being able to afford food or rent, the city government is now acting decisively—by drastically raising taxes on citizens.
Last week, the all-Democrat Austin City Council moved forward unanimously with a new, record-expensive $10 billion bus and rail transit plan, which voters will decide whether to approve in November. The plan includes things such as light rail lines in the central city, bus routes, an underground tunnel in a small portion of downtown, and electric buses.
The cost? Though advocates claim federal taxpayer dollars will cover a portion of the project, the city council will likely ask local citizens to raise the tax rate an unprecedented 11 cents, which means the median homeowner will pay as much as $440 more on just their city property tax bill next year.
For those who don’t own homes, apartment rents will likely soar even higher than expected, as well as prices at businesses citywide.
And that’s only if advocates are correct about how much, if any, federal tax dollars will cover. If the federal government doesn’t cover $4.4 billion of the plan, locals could be paying even more, and for a very long time. Depending on the final funding mechanism that the council decides, citizens could be paying drastically higher annual tax bills for the next 30 years or more.
If that wasn’t enough, the median Austin homeowner is already paying 100 percent more to the city council than they did just 12 years ago (in 2008, the city council was charging a median annual property tax bill of $705; now, it’s over $1,400).
Even worse, over 80 percent of the transit plan’s cost is just for the underground tunnel that spans several downtown blocks and three light rail lines that only cover portions of the city.
Still more, the current rail line in Austin is used by only a handful of people, far fewer than what the local transportation agency Capital Metro originally projected. They guessed 17,000 people would ride daily by 2025; as of 2018, however, only 3,000 of 2 million Austinites were consistently using it.
Some Austinites are already organizing against the plan because of the soaring tax bills that will hurt all citizens, especially when so many locals are already struggling to provide a place for their families to live. Citizens have formed Our Mobility Our Future, a coalition of “taxpayers, home-owners, renters, business-owners, and transportation policy wonks” who are concerned about the plan’s proposals and unprecedented price tag.
“We’re worried about costs, we’re worried about displacement, we’re worried about efficacy, and we feel there’s not been enough scrutiny of what’s looking to be a nearly $10 billion plan,” said Tori Moreland, a spokesperson for the group. “Light rail is a very expensive way to move very few people.”
Other citizens expressed similar frustrations with the council on social media.
“We have a record high unemployment of 12.2% and you voted unanimously for a 25% tax increase? Can’t wait to vote all you clowns out of office,” one citizen wrote in response to a tweet by Mayor Steve Adler.
“Mayor – you’re tone-deaf to the people of Austin who have been asking for tax RELIEF for years!” said another.
“Tell your renters 25% increases to transportation property tax means THEIR rent is going UP – WAY up!” one citizen also replied. “Everything you propose is about spending, spending and making Austin LESS affordable.”
“This is out of control. Home owners are already bled dry in this city. A 25% increase will force some to sell their homes,” another wrote.
The city council will continue discussing the plan’s details over the summer. Concerned citizens can contact their council members.