Why don’t local officials want you, the taxpayer, to have a say over what happens with your own money?
This glaring question remains unanswered after a group of Austin-area local officials and Democrat state lawmakers met recently to strategize for the upcoming Texas legislative session. Their top priorities included keeping property taxes high and preventing citizens from gaining more consent over their own money.
Property taxes are certainly a buzzword issue statewide, and rightfully so. Many Texas families face a towering wall of property taxes that is blocking them from the chance at prosperity. In Austin, many residents have been forced to move out of the city because of them.
One of the reasons why this wall of taxes keeps rising is because local officials — counties, city councils, school districts — keep adding layers of bricks each year. Under current Texas law, local officials are allowed to take up to 8 percent more of your money every year without your approval.
And many exploit that year after year. For example, Austin City Council is now taking 80 percent more money from Austin taxpayers than they did just 10 years ago.
If local officials decide to raise your taxes above 8 percent in a year, then state law allows taxpayers a chance to vote on it, provided they can complete a tedious petition process to possibly force an election.
But rather than risk having to ask citizens for their money, local officials will routinely ensure they increase taxes by exactly 8 percent.
Given the disastrous consequences these soaring taxes have had on citizens across the state, Gov. Greg Abbott wants more citizen control; instead of local officials being allowed to freely take up to 8 percent more money each year, the governor has proposed lowering that to 2.5 percent. If local governments want to cross that threshold, they must simply obtain the approval of the citizens.
Which brings us back to the strategy meeting in Austin: the area’s local government officials aren’t happy about this idea. They bemoan how they don’t want to ask citizens before taking more of their money, and they are trying to figure out ways to combat the governor’s compelling message.
“It sells, and that is why we have a hard job getting there,” said Gerald Daugherty, the often heralded “conservative” Travis County Commissioner.
Ed Van Eenoo, Austin’s deputy chief financial officer, said if the city had to follow such accountability five years ago, they might’ve lost an amount of money equivalent to the payroll of the Austin Fire Department.
Other leaders painted a dreadful picture that if they were required to simply ask taxpayers for more money first, they might be forced to cut basic services like police and fire.
But these threats are incredibly disingenuous. The reality is that most of these local officials, like the Austin City Council, have piles of taxpayer money to spend on essential needs.
But they don’t. They waste it instead.
Despite spending over $4,000 per every single Austinite, almost double the amount that Dallas or Houston does, the Austin City Council somehow could not find room in this year’s budget to fund improvements to fire stations and emergency medical facilities. They had to ask voters in November for $38 million more in debt to fund what should be the highest, most basic priority in their existing budget.
Meanwhile, Austin was wasting $140 million on a flawed tunnel project, giving away free money to any citizen who applied to their “matched savings” program, and spending money on an “artist-in-residence” program which employs artists in city departments to simply provide “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Don’t say there is no money left over to fund firemen and police officers.
Remember, even if there was a legitimate need, city officials aren’t prevented from obtaining more necessary tax dollars; they just have to ask their voters first.
The bottom line: local governments like Austin are already wasting your money, but they are still fighting for uninhibited access to more of it. Why don’t local officials want you, the taxpayer, to simply have a say over what happens with your own money?
The question still remains, but their actions have already sent a clear message: they don’t want your consent. They simply want free access to your wallet.