An idea almost as good as a vaccine mandate

This is an excerpt from the Aug. 10 edition of the Austin Politics Newsletter. To get daily breaking news and analysis on city politics, click here to subscribe. 

Based on how much they decide to do with property tax rate, City Council will have between $14.4- $23.3M to use for one-time expenses in the coming fiscal year. One potential use: stipends or bonuses for city employees. The city manager’s proposed budget included a 2% raise for all civilian employees plus a one-time $500 stipend. (“Sworn” police, fire and EMS are all receiving annual pay increases negotiated in their union contracts)

Now, an amendment by Casar (with Alter, Renteria, Kitchen) would increase the stipend to $1,000 and extend it to all full-time employees making under $80,000, including cops, firefighters and medics. Civilian employees who make more would still get $500.

A vaccine incentive

Mayor Steve Adler has suggested creating an additional $100 for employees who get vaccinated. Any employee who has been vaccinated or gets vaccinated (within a given timeframe, I presume) would be eligible.

NO!!

What Council should obviously do is simply make the entire $500 or $1,000 stipend contingent on vaccination. That’s a huge chunk of change to turn down just to avoid two pricks of a needle.

It may not be enough to convince those who sincerely believe the vaccine will render them infertile or implant them with a Bill Gates microchip, but it will certainly be a meaningful nudge for the many who simply haven’t bothered to get the shot. I rarely used to get the flu shot — I certainly would have for $1,000 though. There are still tons of people, particularly young people, who aren’t against vaccines but simply haven’t taken the time to get the shot because they’re just not that worried about the virus. Just the other day I convinced a young family member to get the shot.

Another important change I’d recommend is making sworn employees who make over $80,000 eligible for the $500 stipend. That would then include all cops, who have been particularly resistant to getting vaccinated.

If this prompts people to get vaccinated (it most certainly will), good! If it saves taxpayers some money for the employees who still refuse to get jabbed, that’s a nice consolation prize in an era of tight budgets.

Council sources tell me that tying the larger incentive to vaccination is being considered, but one potential complication is that it may not be easy for the city to immediately disburse that much money. Workers may have to wait until January to get paid, which may make the incentive a little less enticing.

Another potential complication are legal limits on the city investigating whether a worker is vaccinated. Again, it seems like there could be a way around this if it’s a voluntary program … if a worker presents proof of vaccination, they get a bonus. Just like non-smokers are rewarded with lower insurance premiums.

In an ideal world, the city could simply mandate vaccines. And perhaps in a court battle with Abbott it could prevail, but that will take time and success is far from assured. In the meantime, offering money is the best way to get shots in arms when we need it most: now.

This is an excerpt from the Aug. 10 edition of the Austin Politics Newsletter. To get daily breaking news and analysis on city politics, click here to subscribe. 

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