I am Bill Oakey, a retired accountant who worked for various State agencies for 36 years. I have lived in Austin since 1971. When I am not fighting for the taxpayers at City Hall or the County Commissioners Court, I work at my leisure as an artist photographer.
One afternoon in the early 1980’s I read a newspaper article about a 20% electric rate increase passed by the Austin City Council. Curious about why such a steep increase could happen, I went to City Hall and asked for a copy of the newly adopted City Budget. After several late nights studying the budget, I discovered one key sentence in the introduction. It stated that the amount of the rate increase was based on “the assumption of successful passage of the lignite coal bonds.” Well, the budget was signed before the election and the lignite bonds failed.
The City Council handed us a consumer victory when they agreed to roll back the electric rates by 10%. The following year, I was appointed to the City Electric Utility Commission. Hoping to win further battles to keep residential and small business electric rates from rising, I adopted the slogan, “My Name Is Bill and I Would Like to Lower Yours.” Within a couple of years the City was embroiled in a major rate case, with a formal hearings examiner and two attorneys presiding as consumer advocates. When the heavy, two-volume rate filing package was delivered, I dug into the Executive Summary at the front of Volume 1. Using a pocket calculator, I found enough simple math errors to justify a zero rate increase. Once again, the Electric Utility and the City Council agreed, and there was no rate increase that year.
In 1987 I drafted two proposals for property tax reform, both of which were passed by the State Legislature and signed into law. One was the over-65 school tax freeze. The other was a “Truth In Taxation” law, which requires simple language disclosure on all public hearing notices for local property tax increases. The notices must show the actual dollar amount of taxes due for the average assessed home value under the current tax rate, followed by the dollar amount to be paid by the average assessed homeowner under the proposed tax increase.
I did not resurface as an Austin consumer advocate until the 2011-2012 Austin Energy rate case. In conjunction with Public Citizen and a host of other consumer and low-income advocacy groups, we fought for and won several key issues in the case. Further reforms are still needed and will be addressed in future rate cases.
Two and a half years ago, I began compiling and archiving news reports and data sources related to escalating costs for Austin taxpayers. During this time, the word “affordability” has become one of the most often used buzzwords in civic and public forums throughout Central Texas. That’s the reason for this blog. I hope you will feel compelled to make comments and offer solutions. I am open to posting blog entries from other writers.
Progress is being made in an effort to reduce the cost of a proposed $300 million dollar Travis County Civil Courthouse. Some interesting opportunities to elevate the issue of affordability and get the attention of public officials are in the discussion stages now. Subscribe to this blog to keep up to date on the latest developments.
Onward and downward with high taxes, inefficiency, and misplaced spending priorities. And keep in mind that fiscal responsibility is a non-partisan issue.
An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.
I believe that you ought to publish more on this subject matter, it might not
be a taboo matter but typically folks don’t discuss such issues.
To the next! Best wishes!!
Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!
does austin have a committed group to fight these bond proposals? i know ive seen signs in the past that say vote no on bond x but dont know if its a regular group of just ad hoc
I just saw Bill’s comments in todays newspaper. Had never seen or heard of you until now. I like your perspective in looking at the issues and proposed programs. Black and white. Just like a good accountant. This is what is really needed by many of our government offices when it comes to spending OUR tax dollars. I look forward to reading more.
BRAVO !!! I appreciate the time you have invested in the concerns of tax paying citizens. I recently have forwarded your blog onto follow concerned Austinites.
After reading your blog, I thought you might be interested in a series of talks Leadership Austin is hosting at the Long Center regarding the growing divide in Austin. It’s a breakfast followed by a panel discussion with Ora Houston, Ryan Robinson and Tane Ward. Check it out at http://www.leadershipaustin.org
Thank you for what you do-! I am learning more from your web site than anywhere else. Please post more on how it is that residents vs commercial industry pick up the majority of the tax bill- something I have never understood… And who are these people that CAN afford the escalating Austin? Who are they? Also interested if you have any data on how many people flee Austin each year, due to being taxed out of their home. I know people with six figure incomes that cannot afford a house here. Thank you.
You might want to do a story on the huge increase for the cost of STARflight helicopters. Supposedly they want the money for newer, faster helicopters that can carry more patients despite the fact that I am not aware of any time they carried more than one patient unless it was small children and the faster part refers to out of town calls, patient transfers and rescues that we the Travis Co taxpayers pay for but those getting the service do not. If your wheel chair gets stuck in creek bed in the Blanco river, They will come pull you out for free, but we the taxpayers get to pay for the cost of that flight.
Re: May 21, 2022 Statesman front page article under the category of “Reproductive Health”
Hi, Bill! I just found your blog thanks to a reference in the newspaper and want to point out another situation in which some serious fact-checking is called for. In the May 21 front-page article, we learn that the City of Austin is developing a plan to provide (first sentence of article) free “menstrual products” to alleviate the financial burden on low-income communities. The article (written by a woman, if I can deduce her biological reality from the article’s author’s name) cites City Council member Vanessa Fuentes as the authority for the assertion that “The average person who has a menstrual cycle will spend about $18,000 per year on menstrual products.”
ANYone who believes that women spend $1500 on monthly supplies is competing with the famed golden toilet-seat variety of exaggeration. Until the City publishes a correction to this crazy assertion, I will use this proposal as a banner example of our wreckless city government as they hustle us to economic doom. Your old art history friend, Karen Pope