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.