Austin's Affordability Apathy - Texas Scorecard

In the midst of a special session aimed at providing property tax relief to Texans, one municipality is responding to the immediate political landscape with an unprecedented tax increase in hopes of ramming it through before protections kick in.

Wednesday, the city of Austin released a proposed budget which sets the maximum property tax rate higher by a staggering 13.6% – a percent increase well above the maximum allowable by state law without triggering a rollback election. Of course, this is the exact kind of knee-jerk response that’s to be expected, considering rollback elections and property tax relief are two of the keystone issues for Abbott’s special session.

The city is, of course, simply hedging its bets against the immediate imposition of taxpayer protections by the legislature by assaulting homeowners while they still can. The tax rate was approved Wednesday by a 6-4 vote, with only councilmembers Troxclair, Flannigan, Houston, and Garza voting against.

Meanwhile, city officials are also considering a ‘tax swap’ with Austin ISD – an incipient concept they believe could help lower area taxes overall. This idea has yet to be fully fleshed out, but would involve the city taking over some district functions and would – they hope – serve as a roundabout mechanism to mitigate the nearly one-third of AISD’s budget that gets remitted to the state via recapture (Robin Hood).

Of course, that’s just fancy wordplay for keeping tax-dollars local – not taking less of them, which is what Austin taxpayers really need. Looking to history, local governments rarely return revenue surpluses back to the taxpayers – they simply find “creative” new ways to spend them.

Like fancy new toilets. Or prophylactics on trees. Or lobbying against taxpayers’ interests in the legislature. Or any other of the myriad of indefensible ways the city spends other peoples’ money.

It’s worth noting that Austin ISD is simultaneously asking voters to approve another billion in debt which officials are bragging “won’t raise the tax rate.”

Sure. Whatever. Won’t lower it either. Austin homeowners have been getting unrelentingly hosed for the past decade, so let’s not pat ourselves on the back too hard, now.

It’s no secret that Austin isn’t serious at all about the city’s affordability problem. If they were, city officials wouldn’t have even proposed­ – much less finalized – such an aggressive new maximum in advance of looming legislative protections.

But that’s beside the point.

That’s just what happens when a government becomes too big – taxpayers become a commodity, and any semblance of a fiduciary obligation between the two disappears in all but rhetoric.