FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
When you go vote and get to Proposition A toward the end of the ballot, keep this number in mind. 25%. According to the Travis County Tax Office, that’s the average increase in property tax you’ll pay on your home every year if Proposition A is approved. It’s for Project Connect, a $7.1 billion down payment on new commuter rail lines for the Austin area. And your 25% property tax increase will be permanent.
Don’t own a home? The tax increase on rental properties, such as apartments and rental homes, would be 26.2%. Guess who gets to pay that.
This would be the largest City of Austin tax increase in over 100 years. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. We’re in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic. Many people have been laid off or lost their jobs. Many more are behind on their rent and mortgages, and hundreds are facing eviction and foreclosure. People are struggling to pay for basic necessities. And remember, that’s just the city’s part of your property taxes. You also pay property taxes to AISD, Travis County, Travis County Healthcare District, and Austin Community College.
So, what does this huge tax increase get us? We’re not exactly sure yet. Project Connect is still in the concept phase. Most of your 25% property tax increase would go to build two rail lines from North Austin to downtown, and a third under Lady Bird Lake and out to the airport. The exact routes aren’t decided yet. Project Connect illustrations show trains going down the middle of major traffic arteries like Guadalupe and Brazos. But Capital Metro says these are “conceptual plans,” not engineered to specific streets. That means there are no real engineering plans yet.
The plan includes building rail lines and a station underneath downtown. When Capital Metro was asked about their engineering, hydrological and geological studies for the tunnel system under downtown, they responded, “If the tunnel is included in the program, detailed studies will be conducted during engineering.” In other words, they’ll start the planning after you start paying the 25% tax increase.
When asked for their data demonstrating that Project Connect would reduce traffic congestion in Austin, Capital Metro responded, “Traffic impact will be studied as the lines move forward through engineering.” After the tax passes! In other words, Capital Metro has no proof their plan will reduce traffic congestion.
How about ridership? Will everyone in Austin ride the rails? There have been no authentic ridership studies to determine how many Austinites might actually use the train system. It doesn’t run anywhere near where most of us live. And its stations won’t have a lot of commuter parking. They’re really going to have to work hard to convince a significant number of Austin residents to leave their cars at home and use public transit.
What prompted Capital Metro to come up with such a ‘well thought through, carefully considered’ plan, funded by your $7.1 billion dollar down payment? Well, you could Follow the Money. Take a look at who’s paying for the Project Connect campaign. Here are the six largest donors:
· HNTB Transportation Engineering firm $155,000
This is $545,000 from businesses with an interest in working on Project Connect, or who will directly benefit from it. This is also 56% of all the money the PAC has raised.
And if Project Connect does pass — completely financed by you — you’d still have no say in its operation. The multi-billion-dollar system would be managed by an appointed board, rather than elected officials. The people who pay for the system—Austin residents— would have no voice in its operation.
We’ve been there before. Capital Metro’s Red Line was administered by an independent board and it went 220% over budget. But it never got a dime of federal funding. It’s been said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. At a minimum, it’s not very smart.
Project Connect is a very expensive rail system with very limited potential. It would not serve many of the areas of the city where most Austinites live and it would not transport its passengers where most Austinites want to go. However, our leaders never really looked into the alternatives to a rail system.
Rail is not the only possibility. Many large and growing cities across the country, like San Antonio, have opted for comprehensive bus systems, using different types and sizes of buses for different areas and different routes. Even Kyle has incorporated city subsidized Uber rides to help its citizens solve their transportation concerns.
Voices of Austin does not favor the status quo. We do not suggest for a minute that we can leave our transportation system and network as they are now while we continue to grow rapidly. But we do think such extensive and expensive plans for our rapidly growing city need and deserve careful study. We need to look carefully at all the alternatives before we make a very expensive decision on the best way to keep Austin the wonderful place to live that it’s always been.
Voices of Austin (VofA) is a grassroots citizen’s organization formed to speak out for the vast majority of Austin citizens and organizations. VofA is a registered 501c4 nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. It is not a political action committee and will not endorse or oppose candidates or propositions in an election or make financial contributions to candidates or campaigns.
News Media Contact: DeVondolyn Arrington, Press Secretary