Austin local officials have been vocally in favor of a troubling position: denying Texans more control over their own money.
Austinites have reason to be concerned for their wallets after their local elected officials spoke out against taxpayers on a critical fight happening at the Texas Capitol.
Currently, state lawmakers are pushing to reform the state’s broken property tax system, and their recent actions are finally showing encouraging signs for citizens.
Last week, legislators unveiled a plan to give citizens more power over their own money when it comes to tax increases. State law currently allows local governments to take up to eight percent more of citizens’ money per year without their permission, but the new legislation, House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 respectively, would require officials to simply ask voters earlier—any tax increase above 2.5 percent would need citizens’ approval at the ballot box.
Austin officials including Mayor Steve Adler and the entire Austin Community College Board have come out strongly against the proposal. Perhaps it’s because Austin City Council has taken advantage of the current law, freely raising taxes a staggering 80 percent on the average homeowner over the past ten years—all without the homeowner having any recourse.
Council Member Greg Casar called the citizen approval idea the worst information for city leaders to receive, claiming that if the city council had to ask voters for permission to take more of their money, the city would allegedly be forced to lay off firefighters and other staff.
“There is just no way we can help the people … we want to help,” Casar said. “[Instead] we’ll be talking about how to mitigate hurt. Given that the legislature is more concerned with forcing austerity on people rather than helping them, we have to start preparing for that potential.”
Council Member Alison Alter echoed Casar’s dubious remark, also suggesting that asking voters first before hiking taxes would immediately mean cutting public safety.
“A huge portion of our budget is spent on personnel and there’s just is only so much room to maneuver,” Alter said. “There are a lot of things where we really don’t have a choice if we want to provide the safety that we deserve.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Delia Garza said “revenue caps,” or simply getting voters’ permission for more money, would endanger the city’s spending on a golf course.
“I encourage the supporters to not expect the city to foot the bill for this entire project,” said Garza. “When we have looming revenue caps, when our state is telling us we will not be able to bring in the revenue that we need, and we have so many needs in this community… I encourage those seeking to save [the golf course] to also contact your state reps and let them know that revenue caps will significantly hurt the city’s ability to not only provide basic services, but to provide things like saving open space.”
Austin City Council spends over $4,000 per Austinite, roughly double the amount spent by other cities like Dallas or Houston. Just a few of the council’s more responsible spending examples include $140 million over-budget on a flawed tunnel, $127 million in perks to hand-picked corporations, and even $115,000 per year to clean a single downtown public toilet.
But according to council members, if they had to get voters’ permission to raise taxes over 2.5 percent—not including new cash the city already gets from economic growth—then there would somehow be less money available for core services such as police and firefighters.
While the decision on the new citizen-approval plan is considered at the capitol, Austinites can still make their voices heard by either contacting their city council members or signing a petition in support of empowering their own residents.
To sign the petition, click here: https://action.empowertexans.com/RNTEapz
Council members’ contact information is listed below:
Mayor: Steve Adler
District 1 Council Member: Natasha Harper-Madison
District 2 Council Member: Delia Garza
District 3 Council Member: Sabino “Pio” Renteria
District 4 Council Member: Greg Casar
District 5 Council Member: Ann Kitchen
District 6 Council Member: Jimmy Flannigan
District 7 Council Member: Leslie Pool
District 8 Council Member: Paige Ellis
District 9 Council Member: Kathie Tovo
District 10 Council Member: Alison Alter