The open letter below was received by Voices of Austin from former Travis County Judge and former Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector, Bill Aleshire. Mr. Aleshire currently practices law and is an advocate for government transparency and accountability. In his letter, Mr. Aleshire speaks to his experience as a County Tax Assessor-Collector and the dangers he foresees should “Proposition A” pass this November election.
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I am writing, as your former Tax Collector, to warn you about the City of Austin’s PROP A “Project Connect” on the November 3, 2020 ballot. If you support Prop A, you are agreeing to the biggest property tax increase in Austin’s history; an increase that is permanent.
In an official public notice, the entire Austin City Council proposed a 2020 tax rate that would increase the Austin tax on the average homeowner by over 26%. But the City Council does not have authority to increase taxes that much in one year. To get a tax increase that big, they must get voter approval. That is what PROP A is. The PROP A tax increase affects not only homeowners but renters and small businesses as well. If PROP A passes, it will stack on top of increases you will also see this year for taxes by AISD, Travis County, Central Health, and ACC.
Do you think owning a home, or paying rent, in Austin is becoming unaffordable? Even if it’s currently affordable for you, do you recognize that more and more residents of Austin are being forced by increasing costs of taxes and gentrification to leave Austin? The City of Austin is pursuing policies and programs that make Austin unaffordable, even at a time when the COVID pandemic has disrupted family budgets and diminished business income. This is nuts.
Perhaps I am so deeply concerned about the PROP A Tax Increase because I remember what it was like being the Tax Collector. I specifically remember being at the customer counter in the Tax Office with an elderly Hispanic woman who brought her cigar box containing the cash she had been saving up all year to pay the taxes on her home. It is a vivid reminder how onerous the tax burden can be, especially for those who are not rich but just want to hold on to their home.
I am afraid that if PROP A passes, many people—perhaps even some who unwittingly vote FOR it—are going to be shocked at the 2020 tax bill they will receive after the election but have to pay this year. People on fixed incomes, seniors or disabled people whose ISD taxes are “frozen” will find out their City taxes are not frozen and this full tax increase is going to hit them hard. Homeowners with mortgages are going to be dinged by their mortgage companies to pay extra into escrow and increase their house payment to cover projected higher taxes in 2021 and beyond.
I am also offended by the lack of candor or lack of documentation of the true costs and tax implications of Project Connect. Property taxpayers have no guarantee that this tax increase is all they will have to pay for Project Connect. Taxpayers could, and likely will, find themselves trapped into even greater increases when the true and complete budget for Project Connect is eventually revealed.
And the City Council will not be in charge of spending this money—they are creating a new semi-governmental entity to actually spend the money if PROP A passes.
The City Budget is taking a hit this year, and probably 2021, in loss of Sales tax revenue. What are the odds that the Council will dip into PROP A money just to make up for the Sales tax loss? My point: Taxpayers don’t know what they will actually get for the biggest property tax increase in Austin’s history.