Troxclair misleads on city budget

Ellen Troxclair, fresh into her position at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is peddling misinformation about the city budget in a column for the Texas Tribune:

If we take the difference between the 2.5 percent revenue limit and the tax rate the city of Austin adopted this year, it’s in the ballpark of $22 million. That’s $22 million of “lost revenue” — a drop in the bucket in a $4 billion budget. In fact, this represents about 0.5 percent of the annual budget.

Please do not believe the false panic about not having enough money for public safety budgets and filling potholes.

Local governments can and should look to cut things, like contracts of $775,000 to clean a single public toilet over five years, or to tighten up oversight of programs like the matched savings account, which hands out $4,000 per person if you simply say you’ll start a business, and to re-evaluate Austin’s $165 million solar contract, at a time when the cost of other energy sources is dropping (just ask neighboring Georgetown how that’s working out).

Just like a similarly misleading column published about Austin in the Wall Street Journal a couple months ago, Troxclair neglects to mention that the great majority of that $4 billion budget has nothing to do with property taxes. It’s mostly the city-owned utilities –– Austin Energy, Austin Water, Austin Resource Recovery –– which are of course funded by user fees, not property taxes. Take a look at the city budget:

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The city general fund is roughly $1 billion, or just under a quarter of the overall budget. And even the general fund isn’t entirely funded by property taxes, which only account for 16 percent of overall city revenue:

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Similar to her tenure on Council, Troxclair doesn’t really offer helpful suggestions for how Council can significantly cut general fund spending. The only big spending item she highlights –– the solar contract –– again has nothing to do with property taxes. That contract was for Austin Energy.

And of course, let’s look at what property taxes are funding. Police, fire, EMS & the court system account for 70.9% of spending. Exactly the things that conservatives say we need to boost spending for, not cut.

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It’s entirely appropriate for the Texas Tribune to publish columns in favor of Abbott’s tax plan, but it should not allow itself to be used as a vehicle for intentional misinformation. That’s what this is.

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