"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
Austin Energy Headquarters -- This morning, the lame duck Austin City Council heard public testimony concerning the final budget it will write before leaving office in December. Approximately 50 people showed up to the meeting. By contrast, 90,000 people appealed their property tax apprasals in Travis County this year.
The discussion began with the pending Austin Water Utility rate increase. No one protested the premise of the rate increase. The only discussion was over how such an increase would be structured.
With the city of Austin budget projected to increase 6.5% this year, the overwhelming majority of speakers praised the outgoing council for increasing the budget for their particular program. Examples include: Low-income home weatherization, Obamacare incentives, and supplemental funding for Austin ISD. None of the speakers question the necessity or validity of programs.
As Mayor Leffingwell noted, this author was the only person who spoke against the budget; we urged the council to adopt zero-based budgeting:
My name is Adam Cahn. I'm coming up to speak against the proposed budget. Austin faces an affordability crisis because the current lame-duck city council regulates too much, spends too much, and taxes too much. That's why we passed 10-1 in the first place. Instead, I encourage this council to adopt zero-based budgeting.While 90,000 people protested their property tax appraisals this year, 50 showed up to the city council's budget meeting. The City of Austin controls a $3.5 billion all funds budget and they are required, by law, to listen to citizen input during public comment. The opportunities for greater citizen participation are obvious.
Zero based budgeting would require every city department to justify every penny they spend. Rather than treating current spending as sacrosanct, city agencies would start from scratch. The state of Texas successfully used this process in their 2003 budget
This budget meeting epitomizes why zero-based budgeting is so essential. Special interest tax consumer show up to lobby for programs while the hard-working taxpayers who pay for those programs are too busy working. Zero-based budgeting would give those hard working taxpayers a seat at the table. Conventional thinking won't solve Austin's affordability crisis and I encourage the council to adopt zero-based budgeting.