By Bill Oakey – August 13, 2020
Does Austin need some kind of improved mass transit system? Absolutely. Do we need a good plan to relieve traffic congestion? Absolutely. So, does the City Council’s November ballot initiative to raise your property taxes by 23% address those needs and solve the traffic problems?
Absolutely not! And there are plenty of reasons why.
Are You Ready for Just One Car Lane In Each Direction On Major Sections of Guadalupe, North Lamar and South Congress?
if you go to the Project Connect website, you will see a fairyland artist’s rendering of a beautifully landscaped, massively wide boulevard. There are two lanes in the center for the rail line. Then there are two car lanes on each side of the rail line, with drivers cruising along blissfully. But this little slice of paradise is about as real as the yellow brick road that leads to Emerald City in the Land of Oz.
All you have to do is take a little trip from North Austin along North Lamar and Guadalupe through U.T. and then across the river and down South Congress. Look out the window and count the number of car lanes. Unless you see six wide lanes all along the route, you will be witnessing a big heap of trouble for the Project Connect Pie-In-The-Sky transit plan. Just do a Google search for “Project Connect” “car lanes,” with the quotes exactly as shown. You will find plenty of community concerns about this critical issue. What is Capital Metro’s response? Oh, well, we could always dig some more tunnels or do some elevated sections. Bottom line – There is no firm plan to address the problem. It’s all couched in several layers of ambiguous speculation. A “yes” vote in November will guarantee clogged turn lanes and exponentially worse traffic congestion.
But Isn’t It About Time We Got People Out of Their Cars?
If you dare to raise serious questions about the murky state of this transit plan, you will hear that familiar refrain. Well, of course in an ideal world, most people would abandon their cars and step into a sleek rail car that will whisk them away to their destination There are cities like Portland and Vancouver that have excellent transit systems. But most of the good ones were started at least 30 years ago, when the costs were much cheaper. In today’s Austin, we have a large suburban population that uses the roads. There won’t be a rail line to serve most of them for decades. But they still need to come into the City and use the roads every day when they go to work. Project Connect’s grand plan is simply a companion piece to the high density land development scheme that threatens to disrupt and displace existing residents of Central Austin neighborhoods. It is designed to carry young hipsters back and forth to the bars and festivals, and of course to their high tech jobs.
The Ugly Truth About the Real Cost of a Citywide Transit System
You don’t have to look far into the Project Connect webpages to come across a key phrase that no one should overlook – “Initial Investment.” Yes, the glossy pages and slick ads will try to convince you that we can have a huge north-south Orange Line, a Blue Line all the way to the airport, a series of downtown tunnels, and a slew of new rapid and regular bus routes – all for the $7.1 billion from raising your property taxes and imagined Federal support. But remember that the November vote is only the “initial investment.”
The Real Cost Is at Least 8 Times Higher than $7.1 Billion!
All you have to do is look at the rail initiative approved by Seattle voters in 2016. It calls for a $54 billion expansion of their rail system. You read that right – $54 billion! And not for the entire citywide system, but just for an expansion of their existing system. This is why Project Connect refers to the November vote to raise your property taxes as an “initial investment.”
But hold on, it gets worse. In case you were wondering whether there would be cost overruns in Project Connect’s cost estimates,, take a look at this article that hit our fellow taxpayers in Seattle: “Seattle Light Rail, Transportation Plan Busting $54 Billion Budget.” They are barely getting started and the costs are already spiraling upwards. Project Connect’s plan calls for Austin’s entire downtown section to be built in underground tunnels. Just close your eyes and try to imagine the staggering, ever-escalating costs piling up over time to accomplish that.
Hey Wait! Aren’t We In the Middle of a Pandemic??
The first question anyone should have asked with regard to Project Connect is whether this year is the right time to ask voters to raise their property taxes. We have no firm estimates on how many businesses will fail completely between now and the end of the year. Even the ones that survive the downturn will be strapped for cash. How in the world will they be able to pay their property taxes in full and on time in January. Is anyone at the City or Travis County even looking into this question? Have they surveyed the many types of struggling businesses to gauge the situation? Have they calculated the potential loss of sales tax revenue combined with a steep loss of property tax revenue? What about all the unemployed workers? And the hundreds, if not thousands of landlords who haven’t been able to collect their rent payments?
Update: 6:00 PM, August 13
Today the City Council made it official. They voted unanimously to put the Project Connect measure on the November 3rd ballot. The referendum calls for an 8.75 cent hike per $100 home valuation. This would mean a property tax increase of 23%!! It would cost the owner of a median-valued home of $326,368 an additional $332 per year. The ill-conceived timing and the exorbitant cost makes this the most foolhardy and irresponsible action of any City Council in our lifetime!
Yes, this is a time of big dilemmas
On Thu, Aug 13, 2020, 8:21 AM Austin Affordability wrote:
> Bill Oakey posted: “By Bill Oakey – August 13, 2020 Does Austin need some > kind of improved mass transit system? Absolutely. Do we need a good plan to > relieve traffic congestion? Absolutely. So, does the City Council’s > November ballot initiative to raise your property taxe” >
I wish this man was our city manager!
We could not agree more. People are barely hanging onto their homes, many are unemployed, and the City government wants them to raise their taxes how much? I just wish we had really competent planners, not wish list developers, making the plans.
Bill – Thanks for posting this. Please keep up the commenting on these VERY important Austin issues. It pisses me off to see the “slick: TV adds from Cap Metro on Project Connect which are really advocating for the passage of the bond (illegal if coming from a governmental entity). NO ONE seems to the looking at the property tax increase impact, how Project Connect is tied to increased Central Austin density (aka Code Next), and the outdated technology of a tixed transit system that is being proposed. This must be voted DOWN in Nov. It will be an endless money pit for the current and future Austin property tax payers.
Great work Bill. The plan takes inner city residents tax dollars to pay for those commuting from the lower taxed suburbs. Another Chamber of Commerce — Board of Realtors sleight of hand.
Steve – Thanks for this comment. I emailed all of the Austin City Council and the Mayor on this VERY SAME flaw in the funding strategy about a month ago. Asking them to spread more of the bond and sysstem cost out to the outlying areas (Round Rock, Manor, Elgin, Leander, Cedar Park, etc.), sinice much of the ridership would come from those areas. Asked for any kind of response. DIDN”T GET ANYTHING FROM ANY OF THEM. Not even a courtesy email. Vote this boondoggle down in Nov.
Why is Southwest Austin left out of having a rail line from the Y in Oak Hill? The Southwest Austin area contributes more tax$$$ than the other areas of the city yet are left out!
Could you please explain how you came up with a Raise in Property Taxes of 23%? The city has said 8.75%.
Hi.The tax hike would be 8.75 cents per $100 home valuation. This results in a 23% tax increase for a median priced home.