Friday, August 5, 2016

#ATXCouncil Budget/Bond (bad) news and notes....

“For My people are foolish,
They have not known Me.
They are silly children,
And they have no understanding.
They are wise to do evil,
But to do good they have no knowledge.”
Jeremiah 4:22

The fiscal tea leaves from city hall do not look good.  We discussed the budget trainwreck last week.  The indefatigable Austin Affordability digs down deeper:
Before you even start reading this, get ready to think about what you can do to help. The proposed City Budget is moving like a freight train through City Hall. We don’t have much time to slow it down. What we face is a taxpayer, utility ratepayer and fee payer disaster on two major levels:

1. The budget raises property taxes by 8% above the effective rate, which is the highest allowed under Texas law, without triggering a rollback election.

2. Every utility charge and utility add-on fee is slated for increases – so high that the total dollar impact on the “typical” resident is 2.4 times higher than the record tax increase!


How Does the City Staff Rationalize These High Proposed Increases?

In Volume 1, Page 29 of the budget, you will find a cheerful note declaring that a “typical family” would only pay $324 per month for City taxes and fees. They state that this is only 4.8% of the median family income for our region. Well, just look at your utility bills and your property tax bills. Then, sit down with your neighbors and take a look at theirs. Ask each other how many of you would consider yourself “typical,” based on this chart in the Budget. If you live in anything larger than a small condo, your utility bills, fees and taxes are probably much higher.
But here’s the biggest flaw in the argument about City taxes and fees being “only a tiny portion” of your annual income. That doesn’t account for the long parade of other taxes from AISD, Travis County, Central Health and ACC. Of course you could isolate just one taxing entity on your total bill and claim that it isn’t really all that bad. But hey, we have to pay the entire bill! And it’s absurd to suggest that a “typical” family currently pays only $221 per month on their utility bills. The mere suggestion put forth in the City Manager’s proposed Budget that we the citizens don’t have a problem with these costs is outrageous, preposterous and insulting to our collective intelligence! 

How Could the City Council Easily Trim the Budget?

Last year I fought hard to convince them to apply cost of living pay increases on a sliding scale. The wealthy managers and executives at the top do not need the same percentage increase as the lowest paid grunt workers. Several City Council members spoke favorably of the idea and even floated various scenarios to make it happen. I pointed out that many times during my 35 year career as a State employee, the Legislature gave us flat dollar amounts as pay raises. This helped the lowest paid workers and held down the skewed impact of percentage increases.  But last year, the City Manager sent a screaming and crying letter to the City Council, complaining that the entire staff had been humiliated by the suggestion of more equitable pay increases. This caused the City Council to fold their tents and abandon the idea immediately.
Next, the potential transportation bond.  Sources have told us it's gotten worse since it went to the city manager.  We had planned to loop back to it next week, but the Statesman has some recent developments:
Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s unprecedentedly huge transportation bond proposal appears to have survived its summer vacation.
The Austin City Council, just back from a month off, had few discouraging words in an informal work session Tuesday as it discussed Adler’s $720 million proposal, which is largely focused on road improvements, and how it might go about putting the measure before voters in November. If the council wants to hold such an election, state law requires the council members vote to do so by Aug. 22.
The council likely will take that definitive vote Aug. 18, after hearing from the public at an Aug. 11 council meeting.
If approved, the bonds would trigger a property tax increase — phased in through about 2020 and in place for about 20 years after that — of just under $60 on a $250,000 home. 
[T]he council is focusing on the Adler plan, which is centered on overhauling up to eight key Austin arteries: North Lamar, Burnet Road, Airport Boulevard, East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Guadalupe Street, East Riverside Drive, South Lamar and another South Austin corridor to be chosen later. Under the proposal, the city would spend about $482 million adding bike lanes, medians, better sidewalks, trees, street furniture, bus pullouts and intersections improvements to those roads.The council voted 8-3 on June 23 to ask city staffers to bring back an election proposal in August, and that handiwork was before the panel Tuesday.
Rather than the arguments from the spring about how large the plan would be (it is five times larger than any transportation bond proposition previously approved by Austin voters) or its makeup, the council is now focused on how to make the request of voters. Between now and Aug. 18 the council must decide how specific and lengthy to make the language that will appear on the ballot.
Read the original articles here and here.

There will be plenty of time for further comment, but we'll close (for now) with a suggestion: If Mayor Adler and the council majority are serious about passing a major transportation bond this fall, it would help their cause (and their credibility) to nip these Austin Energy "rate" and "fee" hikes (ie. tax increases) in the bud during the August budget season.

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