Should Austinites be given more power to decide what to do with their own money? The mayor says that wouldn’t be “appropriate.”
On Wednesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler testified in opposition to property tax reform legislation currently being proposed at the Texas Legislature. The reform, filed as Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2, would grant citizens greater power over their own tax bills.
Here’s how the law would work: If a local government, like Adler and the Austin City Council, wanted to raise your taxes more than 2.5 percent in a year, they’d simply have to ask for your approval first.
Adler was opposed to the idea, saying he should be able to take a higher amount of citizens’ money before having to ask.
“I will say, the 2.5 percent is not something we believe is workable for cities,” Adler said.
Current state law allows Adler to take 8 percent more of citizens’ money each year without first asking their approval—something he and the city council have taken full advantage of. For nine of the past 12 years, they have raised taxes 8 percent, taking a total of 80 percent more out of the average homeowner’s wallet today than a decade ago.
Adler’s decisions have helped cause a crisis in the city, where working families have been forced to move out because they can no longer afford his growing appetite for their money.
But despite that, Adler said asking citizens for approval to take more of their money just isn’t “appropriate” or a big enough deal.
“Even if you can win that election every year, the thought of going to our voters every year [for tax increases] … is something we think just isn’t the appropriate question to be going to the voters with,” he said. “When we go to the voters, it’s over something big, it’s over something we really want people to focus on … and to have that kind of election every year, we think, is just bad policy.”
And despite Adler now taking 80 percent more from the average homeowner without their approval, he’s still planning to take a lot more. State Rep. Scott Sanford, a Republican from McKinney, confronted him on his relentless tax increases.
“As I look at your chart and listen to your testimony, it appears that your budget plan through 2023 assumes and is indeed necessitated upon tax increases—and tax increases significantly above 2.5 percent,” Sanford said. “Would that be true?”
“That’s correct,” Adler replied. He then claimed he would have to close parks or cut public safety if he had to ask citizens first for more of their money.
After Adler finished speaking, former city council member Ellen Troxclair took the podium and shed some light on what the mayor has really been doing with all of the citizens’ money that he and the council have been taking. Troxclair was the lone conservative voice on the council during her tenure alongside Adler.
“Our local elected officials should look to cut things like the nearly $1 million contract for cleaning a single public restroom in Austin … or how we replace city vehicles every three years—I don’t get a new car every three years, but the city of Austin does,” said Troxclair.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
“If our local city and county officials choose to, for example, have an artist embedded in a city department to “encourage creativity” or spend over $1 million on taxpayer-funded lobbying, over $200,000 on a government-run half-price bookstore, over $10 million on a rewrite of our land development code that was literally tossed in the trash—that’s the decision they are making and they need to own up to it,” Troxclair said.
She also rebutted Adler’s claims that having to ask citizens for more money would mean cutting public safety, in light of how the council is spending the cash they already have.
“It’s equivalent to saying, instead of paying my mortgage this month, I’m going to lease a Porsche—but I’m going to tell you that I can’t possibly afford my mortgage,” she said. “Let’s be transparent about the choices we’re really making here.”
Troxclair emphasized that the new tax reform, which gives Austinites more power over their own money, is not only a key to keeping them in their homes but is the whole point of citizen-led government.
“To me [the reform] only strengthens what is the ultimate local control: empowering citizens to play a stronger oversight role in the government that was elected to serve them.”
To Adler, however, such an idea is “not appropriate.”