So, Austinites – how does it feel to have Austin Energy hiking rates, a proposed property tax hike from the city council, and numerous fee increases including water utility rates? Does it feel a bit like you’re being shaken down for spare change? Well, get ready, because the November ballot may include yet another tax increase. State Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin), the original establishment tax-and-spender hailing from the blue dot, has proposed that Central Health ask you for a five-cent property tax hike this fall.
Government rarely backs off even in lean times, and Austin never does. The city council already wants to ask for more bond money in November – word has it that it will be the largest bond since 2006 – and the council has been busy trying to find ways to make more in sales tax by regulating short-term home rentals (a move fraught with increased bureaucracy). Senator Watson’s proposal would affect all of Travis County and not just Austinites, and there’s no possible opt-out – except that it would have to be approved by voters in November.
Central Health hasn’t said whether they’ll actually ask for the increase. Right now, their proposed budget keeps the current 7.89 cents per $100 valuation rate. A new rate, if approved by voters, wouldn’t hit until 2014, but don’t let that cloud the fact that Watson’s pushing this in part because the UT medical school project he wants has been revealed to cost as much as $4.1 billion over 12 years. Central Health is a key partner in that effort, and the extra five cents in the tax would go in part to medical school training, according to Watson’s statement (as reported here).
Voters ought to be wary. Local government budget season conveniently coincides with a busy time – everyone’s working on going back to school after summer vacations, getting back on a schedule and worrying about the minutiae that goes with all of that. Tax hikes and budget increases don’t penetrate that fog easily, and when such things turn up on the ballot, there’s little time to really get the word out about the real financial impact.
Austin is being bled dry by the vampiric tax-and-spends as it is. Something has to give, and this latest proposal needs to be vetted more thoroughly and the realities given time to sink in. Is a property tax hike at Central Health a necessary and proper thing for daily operation, or is it to fund special projects? Going off the initial information, it looks a lot like the latter.