By Bill Oakey – April 20, 2022, Updated April 22, 2022
The City Council wants to start free money giveaways to families, to the tune of $1,000 per month???
I clearly remember an issue that came up back in the late 1980’s. The City wanted to place an item on the ballot to approve bonds for energy conservation programs. Families who qualified would get a “home energy audit.” Then a contractor would fix up their home to make it more energy efficient.
The City Council was all set to put this initiative on the ballot, along with other bonds to be considered. But it ran into a legal roadblock. Then Attorney General Jim Maddox issued an opinion that State law does not allow cities to give away money or “things of value.” Programs such as this can be funded with voluntary payments that customers add to their utility bills, or with State or Federal funds. But local taxpayer money cannot legally be used.
Here is the relevant citation in The Texas Constitution, Article III, Sec. 52:
Sec. 52. COUNTIES, CITIES, TOWNS OR OTHER POLITICAL CORPORATIONS OR SUBDIVISIONS; LENDING CREDIT; GRANTS. (a) Except as otherwise provided by this section, the Legislature shall have no power to authorize any county, city, town or other political corporation or subdivision of the State to lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association or corporation whatsoever, or to become a stockholder in such corpora- tion, association or company.
If providing free energy efficiency upgrades to homes is not allowed under State law, then surely giving away bundles of taxpayers’ cash could not be legal!
I can just imagine people going wild in the streets, as a parade of official City of Austin vehicles with “Free Money” logos on them depart City Hall. This extravaganza would follow a rousing send off speech by Mayor Steve Adler. Or better yet, why not turn the program over to Capital Metro and Project Connect? They could call it the Gravy Train, and operate it along the Green Line. Maybe they could dig tunnels under people’s homes, and deliver the free money right to their bedsides or their kitchen tables!
The concept of a guaranteed income program is upside down and backwards. On its face, it acknowledges that our economic system is out of whack. Workers should be paid a living wage on the front end of the process. Asking taxpayers to fix a broken system by applying a bandaid to the back end only makes the problem worse. It adds layers of administrative cost to the government. And it saps resources from other essential programs.
Here’s How to Fix the Problem
Austin has maintained a culture of low wages, dating back to at least the 1970’s, when we were a smaller college town. Our biggest employers then were U.T. and State government agencies. Because Austin was such a desirable place to live, private employers got by with paying pitifully low wages. That embedded culture still persists to this day for many jobs on the lower rungs of the pay scale.
It is high time for the City Council, the local chambers of commerce and the independent business associations to come together and address the problem. Start by researching how Austin wages compare with other cities. Find out what, if any, legitimate barriers exist that prevent Austin employers from paying better wages. Then fix those problems. Break down those barriers.
But don’t risk costly litigation, or swift action by Ken Paxton and other State Republicans to block the guaranteed income program. Please, City Council – Step up to the plate and do it right!
Crazy Requirements From the Contractor The City Wants To Partner With!
If the City Council approves the guaranteed income pilot program, they will contract it out to UpTogether, a non-profit that has done it in several other cities. Wait till you see the crazy requirements that San Antonio families are hit with if they want to apply! Here are just two eye-popping examples:
1. Link all of your bank and financial accounts to UpTogether, so they can spy on every dollar that you spend.
2. Form a group of between 4 and 8 people in order to join. This ensures that UpTogether can expand exponentially, and lasso an ever-increasing stream of taxpayer dollars, flowing into their organization.
You can read the full details of the San Antonio program here.
A Closing Poem
Just as we’re being taxed out of our socks
Here comes the opening of Pandora’s Box
The City’s new plan to come after your money
Isn’t even legal, and you won’t like it, honey!
They call it guaranteed annual income
It’s crazy, wacky, screwball and then some
Austin should raise the minimum wage
And do it voluntarily, in more than one stage
Too often our leaders don’t think things through
When fixing a problem isn’t easy to do
But surely the City can find a better option
Than rushing a bad plan to final adoption
Giving away money with no strings attached
Is like expecting all eggs to be successfully hatched
The guaranteed income sounds simple on the surface
But it must serve a legal community purpose
Even if the City could find such a loophole
This is Pandora’s Box and a budgetary sinkhole
The non-profit partner the City picked to administer
Has creepy requirements that look downright sinister
Here’s hoping the City will come to their senses
Before taxpayers rise up and mount their defenses
Remember one thing, dear sirs and my dear
This is a City Council election year!