The city of Austin is giving taxpayers one more run for their money before the new property tax trigger comes into effect.
An article recently published in the Austin American-Statesmandetails city manager Spencer Cronk’s proposal to “bump up property tax revenue by 8% one last time before the newly adopted, stricter 3.5% property tax revenue cap” takes effect in 2020.
According to Cronk, the new revenue would help grow the city’s overall budget to a mammoth $4.2 billion, and allow Austin officials to spend more on housing and homelessness programs. As for how raising property taxes would help alleviate the city’s affordability crisis, Cronk did not say.
What is clear however is that this is part of a broader strategy by city officials to enhance their revenue streams now, before the reduced rollback rate takes effect in 2020. However well-intentioned, this large tax increase will negatively affect low-income and impoverished families. Austinites who have the misfortune of falling behind on their property taxes because they lost their job or had to foot an expensive hospital bill could find paying taxes even more difficult soon.
Furthermore, the strategy is anti-democratic in spirit. The voters already decided, via their elected state representatives, that they favor lower taxes and more money in the hands of the people. Proposing a tax increase just under the 8% limit—so that voters aren’t allowed to weigh-in—goes against that.
If city officials deem it necessary to raise taxes past the 3.5% cap rate moving forward, they are welcome to hold a tax-rate election on the issue. Of course, city officials know this, and Austin’s deputy CFO concedes as much, which is exactly why they have decided to act now. By raising the revenue rate to 8%, they elide the pesky issue of public opinion while they still can.
If it’s truly the people’s interest that Cronk and others have at heart, then it would behoove them to stop raising taxes simply because they can.