Austin’s elected officials are criticizing the very same principles they are practicing, and residents are suffering as a result.
In a recent interview, Mayor Steve Adler spoke about how Austin is becoming increasingly unaffordable. “Everybody knows property taxes are rising way too high,” he said. “In fact, for the median priced home property taxes have gone up over… $1,400 in the last five years.”
He then criticized the aspect of the state’s school finance system, nicknamed “Robin Hood,” as a significant reason why taxes are skyrocketing. “What people don’t understand is that over $1,000 of that [tax increase] is not city or county taxes, but the part of the school tax that goes to the state,” he said. “And the part that the state taxes us has gone up over 288 percent in the last five years.”
This is how the Robin Hood system works: residents in wealthier school districts must pay more money to the state, which then turns around and distributes the funds to other poorer districts across Texas, making sure everyone receives an equal portion. Imagine a student earning an A on an assignment and the teacher taking away the grade and dividing it among the whole class, leaving everyone with a D.
The system is a classic example of wealth redistribution, where the state forcibly takes from those who have and gives it to others at the government’s discretion. The mayor is certainly right to criticize it; citizens should be able to keep the money that they work hard to earn, just like students should be able to keep the A that they earn.
Here is the hypocrisy of the mayor’s statements: the City of Austin itself practices wealth redistribution. Apart from justifiable core expenses such as police and fire, the city has numerous programs where they spread out millions in taxpayer money to select groups of individuals, including corporations.
For example, the city’s “matched savings” program was recently audited and found to be simply giving away taxpayer money to any resident who applied, with no oversight. The city also has a long history of giving hand-picked corporations millions in taxpayer cash and benefits.
District 10 Council Member Alison Alter pointed to the broader issue that these handouts are happening across the city budget. “We have programs and we have no idea if they’re making a result and we’re just throwing money at a wall hoping that we hit some target that we’ve set,” she said. “This is happening over and over again in housing, in homelessness, in cultural arts, in workforce development—we have got to get a handle on this.”
In summary, the mayor is upset that the state is taking increasingly more money from Austin and then redistributing it to other cities. Yet the city he leads is taking increasingly more money from residents and then redistributing it to other citizens.
Furthermore, while Mayor Adler blames the state for raising taxes, he himself has voted for increases on every city budget since he’s been in office. Austin is collecting $61 million more from existing residents this fiscal year alone.
All of these policies result in less and less money in the hands of hard-working Austin residents of all income levels, making it more difficult to afford living in the city.
The mayor has spoken against these harmful policies. Yet if he continues them, the affordability problem, and hypocrisy, will only get worse.