When it comes to the affordability crisis gripping Austin, local government officials are renowned for saying one thing and doing the opposite.
Consider Mayor Steve Adler’s campaign website which reads: “Too many of our long-time residents are being priced out of their homes. It wasn’t that long ago that Austin was one of the most affordable big cities in Texas. Today we are the most expensive.” Or consider former Austin ISD superintendent Stephanie Elizalde’s 2021 state of the district speech which admitted that: “[Economically disadvantaged families are] being pushed out of the city. They can’t afford to live in the areas that they formerly lived in, either because of rent, because of housing prices or because of taxes in our area.”
In spite of these platitudes however—of which there are many more—Austin’s political elite continue to act in ways that make the affordability problem worse, not better. For instance, newly-published research documents the tax-and-spend habits of many Austin-area governments, showing just how the cost of government has spiked in recent years. To make matters worse, new developments are set to make those trends even worse.
In recent days, several Austin-area governments have unveiled massive new debt proposals with which to proposition voters in November. Combined, the proposals are worth more than $3.5 billion (principal only) and they include:
- City of Austin: A $350 million housing bond that is the second of its kind to be pitched to voters in four years. If approved, “the typical homeowner…will pay an additional $46 annually over the 20-year bond.”
- Austin ISD: A $2.44 billion bond package—a record-breaking amount—that proposes to spend $2.32 billion on school district improvements; $75.5 million on technology upgrades; $158.3 million on sports center upgrades; and $25.7 million on new busses. If approved, the bonds would require a tax rate increase of $0.01 per $100 of value. “For a $600,000 home, taxes would increase by $60 a year, district officials said.”
- Austin Community College: A $770 million bond to “…provide funding for new construction, campus upgrades and student support services, such as child care and student health services.” The new and improved facilities are both inside-and-out of the city proper. According to the college, “…a taxpayer with a home worth $500,000 would pay up to $5 per year over the first five years, maxing out at $25/year for the remainder of the bond.”
Of course, the tax increases linked to these bond propositions would be imposed on top of the tax increases that come along with the ordinary ongoings of government (which are going up despite big student enrollment declines at ACC and Austin ISD). In other words, the cost of government is poised to soar higher with the passage of the bonds in full. That will create additional hardships for cash-strapped homeowners, who already shell out more than $9,200 in taxes annually.
Austin-area governments won’t solve the affordability crisis by spending other people’s money. In fact, they are making the situation worse. If local officials want their actions to match their words, then they’re going to have to stop taxing people out of their homes and shrink the burden of government. Only then will Austinites be able to get a handle on the crisis.