When officials who have repeatedly squandered your money ask for more cash, is it wise to say yes?
Over the next few weeks, Austinites will head to the polls and vote on a controversial and record-expensive light rail proposal. Proposition A, a joint project of the Austin City Council and the Capital Metro transit agency, would raise annual property taxes by at least 25 percent—roughly $400 more for the already tax-strained median homeowner— to fund “Project Connect.”
The system, if passed, would add a few light rail lines in the central city, an underground tunnel across several blocks of downtown, new bus routes, and electric buses.
Proponents claim Project Connect will cost taxpayers $7 billion, although a realistic examination of history suggests the final cost could be significantly higher.
As CapMetro and the city council push forward with the Project Connect train wreck, they’ve made a lot of promises—promises related to the environment, the economy, and traffic congestion. They’re even making promises related to “displacement mitigation” (aka a $300 million slush fund for politically connected interest groups).
However, for all of these promises, one reality stands out: None of the people making these promises have a track record of credibility.
Quite the opposite, actually.
In recent years, CapMetro’s bus ridership numbers failed to meet a previous round of optimistic “projections,” they cited an example of a failed Minneapolis project as successful, and they have used several sleights of hand related to their operating subsidies.
As another example: In the current proposal, CapMetro claims that Pleasant Valley will be a priority transit corridor, despite the fact that two years ago, they eliminated the 320 bus line on that same street.
But let’s give these folks another $7 billion plus.
(At least CapMetro CEO Randy Clarke’s $300,000+ annual salary is safe.)
Then there’s the city council.
In recent years, the Austin City Council:
- Overspent $140 million on a flawed tunnel.
- Flushed $450,000 on two public toilets.
- Wasted $1 billion on a disastrous biomass power plant project that only produced energy for six months before being shut down.
- Literally gave away a total of millions to citizens who simply emailed the city to ask for cash.
- Spent $115,000 to clean one public toilet.
- Lavished $156,000 on holiday parties last December.
Obviously, these are just a few examples.
But now they want another $7 billion plus, with promises of unsecured federal grants and funding from the state and private parties that have no credibility. If those fall through, local citizens will be left with an even higher bill to pay.
Citizens have also spoken out against the proposal, including progressives like Fred Lewis.
“Austin has a very bad habit—and I say this as a big-spending New Liberal Democrat—they have a bad problem of flying an airplane without any fuel on it, and then when they’re in flight, they try to figure out where they’re going to get the fuel, i.e. the funds,” he said.
The Austin City Council and CapMetro are making a lot of promises, but Austinites need only look at the expensive, wasteful trail officials have already laid to question if continuing down their path is the best way forward.
Election Day is November 3.