AUSTIN — “There’s no money … this is a bad time to be talking about adding to our property taxes.”
That comment from local business owner Shannon Sedwick summarizes the current threat Austinites face in the upcoming November election. Sedwick spoke to a group of community entrepreneurs Monday to alert the public about the city’s latest looming disaster—a monstrous 25 percent tax increase that could cripple not only local businesses, but local citizens.
Amid an economic crisis where government officials’ recent shutdowns have forced at least 132,000 Austinites out of work, the all-Democrat Austin City Council is asking voters this November to raise the tax rate by a whopping 8.75 cents—charging the average homeowner over $300 more on their annual city property tax bill.
The council wants the money to fund a controversial and record-expensive $7 billion transit plan called “Project Connect,” which would build things such as a few light rail lines in the central city, an underground tunnel across several blocks of downtown, new bus routes, and electric buses.
The historic, permanent tax increase would only fund the initial phase of the plan.
“I was checking to see how much more we would be paying next year if this goes through, and it was $3,000 more,” said Sedwick. She owns the local comedy club Esther’s Follies, which officials have kept shut down since March. “We are not open … not going to be open for a long time. So [we have] no money coming in, and we’re going to be paying an extra $3,000.”
“We’re already having a hard time paying the rent. So, now you’re going to have a 25 percent tax increase that is going to go on forever,” said Skeeter Miller, who owns local iconic barbeque joint The County Line. “I mean, how do we ever catch up?”
“This will severely damage what’s left of Austin’s businesses downtown,” said Republican Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who joined the business owners at Monday’s news conference.
“It will be the final nail in a lot of people’s coffins, I’m convinced of that,” he added.
Citizens have organized campaigns against Project Connect not only because of the suffocating cost, but because they say the plan itself is bad and already obsolete. One citizen political action committee—Our Mobility Our Future—noted on their website that local officials want to charge citizens $200 million per mile for a “centralized system that serves far too few citizens.”
“In a city where only a handful of citizens use public transit, Project Connect’s light rail would serve less than 1 percent of regional mobility with no discernible positive impact on congestion or climate,” wrote citizens Jim Skaggs and Roger Falk, both supporters of the PAC. “We are told ‘we must do something,’ but doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing—Project Connect is a very destructive, wrong thing.”
Skaggs and Falk also mentioned how Austin’s 2019 transit ridership was lower than 30 years ago, despite the city doubling in population and officials spending $8 billion in today’s dollars.
“Light rail wouldn’t run for a decade, or more, but this record tax increase starts this year,” they added. “Imposing extraordinary debt and taxes, as so many struggle to survive and businesses face bankruptcy, indicates city leaders are insensitive and out of touch.”
The Austin City Council is already charging the median homeowner 100 percent more in property taxes than just 12 years ago, and the council recently approved taking another 3.5 percent in taxes from citizens next year, even apart from Project Connect.
Officials’ unbearable taxes and recent shutdowns have already forced a slew of iconic local businesses to permanently close, and according to a report by the United Way, a startling 42 percent of area families are struggling to pay their bills.
With their latest massive cash grab plan, officials could not only be killing more local businesses and threatening to tax more citizens out of their homes, they could also end up taking much more than a 25 percent tax increase to fuel Project Connect if the federal government does not chip in what local officials project.
“Project Connect is supposed to be funded with money we don’t have, taxes we can’t afford, and a federal government with no money to pay [their projected portion],” said local property owner Bob Woody on Monday.
“[Austin City Council members] are the most fiscally irresponsible people God has ever put on Earth,” said David Kruger, who owns the iconic Kruger’s Jewelry downtown.
In addition to Project Connect, or what Austinites will see as “Proposition A” on their ballot, city officials are also asking voters to pay for Proposition B, a nearly half-billion-dollar bond ($460 million) for things such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and urban trails.
Early voting is underway and continues through October 30. Election Day is November 3.