Author Archives: Bill Oakey

About Bill Oakey

I am retired from the State of Texas as an accountant. I am now an artist in Austin, doing photographic art. I'm also a lifelong music fan and a computer geek.

23% City Tax Increase Baked In Before November Election!

By Bill Oakey – August 18, 2020

As the pandemic drags on and threatens to be compounded by the winter flu season, Austin taxpayers face another daunting challenge. Last week the City Council adopted their new budget that includes a 23% property tax increase. This increase is for Project Connect’s “initial investment” of $7.1 billion for a horribly flawed mass transit plan. Voters will decide whether to approve the tax increase in the November 3rd election.

But by the time the election gets underway, the Travis County Tax Office may have already processed our new property tax bills with the City’s 23% increase baked in. This link shows that last year, the Travis County Tax Office submitted electronic bills to taxpayers on November 1st. It remains to be seen whether it is possible or feasible for the County to wait until after the election to prepare this year’s tax bills.

What Happens If Tax Bills Get Processed Before The Election, And Voters Reject The Unconscionable Tax Increase?

The Texas Municipal League has published a helpful guide to implementing Senate Bill 2, which contains the State legislation related to this topic. At the bottom of Page 9, it states:

”If property owners pay their taxes using the originally adopted tax rate and the voters ultimately reject that rate at an election in November, the city must refund the difference between the amount of taxes paid and the amount of taxes due under the voter-approval tax rate.”

As you can easily imagine, we could be headed for a confusing and chaotic whale of a mess! Long before the November election, scores of businesses, landlords and homeowners struggling with mortgage payments during the pandemic will confront a harsh reality. They may be delinquent or completely unable to pay their property tax bills. On top of that, the City of Austin may have to calculate and process tax refunds for a few hundred thousand taxpayers.

And If That Isn’t Enough, Another City Tax Increase Is Looming!

In their infinite wisdom, the City Council chose this unfortunate time to put a whopping $460 million bond issue on the November ballot. Proposition B is a grab bag of projects including bike lanes, urban trails and transportation improvements. Some of these are well thought out and necessary. But voters should reject it this year, because it is loaded down with far too many expensive goodies that we can’t afford during a hundred year health crisis and recession. (For crying out loud)!

The absurd Project Connect item is Prop A on the November ballot. The nearly half-billion dollar goody bag is Prop B. So, here is a slogan that we can share with friends all the way to the November election:

Vote Nay On Prop A, and No Sirree On Prop B!

The Ugly Truth About The Project Connect Ballot Proposition To Raise Property Taxes 23%

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!

Please send an email link to this page to all of your contacts, and share it widely on social media.

Your Stimulus Payment Might Arrive As A Visa Debit Card

By Bill Oakey – May 27, 2020

Remember those news reports that your stimulus check will have Donald Trump’s signature on it? If you didn’t file your income tax with a direct deposit listed for your refund, you would have two options – Put the check in your bank account, or frame it so you can admire your Presidential autograph.

Now, millions of Americans are finding instead that Visa debit cards are being sent to their mailboxes…What?? How did that happen? Why were’t we told about this in advance? As it turns out, many people who got these Visa cards over the weekend, quickly tossed them into the trash. The envelopes look like any other piece of junk mail, with a credit card solicitation. Many people threw them away while sorting their mail, thinking it was some sort of scam.

So, what happens if you did throw away your long-awaited stimulus payment? Can you get it replaced? Well, good luck with that. Check out this article about a watchdog in Iowa who got nowhere trying to help citizens answer that question.

Then, as KXAN here in Austin reported, there are all kinds of fees attached, depending on how you use these cards. But I have a few additional questions. How much taxpayer money did Visa walk away with in this deal? What happened to all those government checks with Trump’s signature on them? Did a bunch of those get shredded? If so, how much did that cost the taxpayers?

We have heard that the home confinement has put a lot of stress on marriages. Imagine husbands and wives arguing and fighting over who’s to blame for throwing away $2,400? Even cohabitating couples must be asking a lot of questions right about now. Sorry folks, the buck no longer stops at the President’s desk. It stops in a big dark hole somewhere in space and time.

Musical Stimulation

1. I Threw It All Away – Bob Dylan

2. A Lover’s Question – Clyde McPhatter

Dancing Is “Discouraged” – Texans “Should” Remember That We’re In A Pandemic

By Bill Oakey – May 20, 2020

“Dancing is discouraged.“ Those three words tumbled out of the radio and jolted me awake this morning. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has announced his official guidelines for the reopening of bars under Phase 2 of his back-to-business pandemic initiative. But like most of the language found in Trump’s Federal response papers, it’s all about “should,” and…gosh…”Ya might want to consider.” There’s nary a trace of “You must” or “Thou shalt not.”

After all, to Republicans there is nothing worse than a dreaded government regulation. Even ones that could save millions of lives. I have to wonder, though, if the Republicans ever stop to think how ridiculous this stuff looks. In the published protocols on the Governor’s website, the word “should” appears 16 times. “Dancing Is Discouraged” would look absolutely hilarious on a big sign at the front entrance to Billy Bob’s Texas. It would also be perfect as a historical meme to represent Trumpism during the 2020 pandemic.

Some of the big Texas dance halls are not ready to open yet. When they do, the tables are supposed to be well separated, and only 6 people will be allowed per table. Employees are considering wearing masks. It seems like club owners, employees and customers would all be better served if they had clear and firm rules. But it’s pretty easy to guess why all the “shoulds” are in there instead of “musts” – lawyers. Trump, Abbott and the rest of the Republicans want to make sure that no business faces a liability lawsuit. So, it’s up to you to protect yourself.

Many bar and nightclub owners have been busy trying to prepare for their reopenings. These are hard working folks who deservedly want to get the revenue flowing again. But their challenge is a little bit different from, say, a bookstore or a dry cleaners. Alcohol and good behavior have been known to diverge, at least once in a while.

One of the biggest dangers in a Texas honky-tonk is simply temptation. With beer and whiskey, things can get risky. If they didn’t, a lot of country songwriters would find themselves out of work. If dancing went away, how easy would it be to steal somebody’s wife away. With social distancing, it would be harder to approach the woman you might want to commiserate with over a broken heart.

Using good old fashioned songs as an example, Tanya Tucker could not sing, “Shuffle with me Houston stranger, it’s a cowboy loving night.“ And the character in the George Strait song couldn’t walk right up to a gal with a beckoning smile and say, “Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox. Let’s fall to pieces together. Why should we both fall apart?”

We are all tired of staying cooped up at home. Yet, there are no enforceable, common-sense protections to keep us safe while going out. Most business owners are left largely to police themselves. Masks are one of the most basic means of preventing spread. But those are often regarded as optional. There are no standards or certifications for consumer-grade masks. Any old “face covering” will do, even if it’s made of thin, porous material. If the economy does not rebound quickly, it will be because too many well-informed, reasonable people will not subject themselves to risky, flimsy and ridiculously absurd “protocols,” issued by politicians without the good sense that God gave a garden grasshopper.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece

1. “Cowboy Loving Night” – Tanya Tucker
2. “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together” – George Strait
3. “I Won’t Dance” – Frank Sinatra
4. “Your Mama Don’t Dance” – Loggins & Messina
5. “I Should Have Known Better” – The Beatles

A Novel Message – The Coronavirus Speaks Out

By Bill Oakey – May 7, 2020

I just overheard a private conversation that I wasn’t supposed to hear. But since I did, you need to hear it too. And share it. This virus is not really a silent enemy. The little spikey things communicate with each other. We’re not supposed to hear it, but somehow I caught this conversation:

“If the latest news reports are true, we can beat these humans. They’re not very smart.”

“Well, what makes you so sure?”

“OK, Let’s start from the beginning. They have no idea where we really came from or when we infected the first person.”

“Do they still think we started in a Chinese lab?”

“Most of them don’t, but that doesn’t really matter. Our biggest advantage is how easily we traveled around this planet in the beginning. And, get this! They’re not taking serious measures to prevent the easy traveling environment that helped us spread in the first place.”

“You’re so right! We got to America by plane. If we inhabit the body of just one passenger, we get the freedom to spread in a closed cabin for up to 4 or 5 hours on a single flight. But planes are mostly empty now. Won’t they have tough regulations when the passengers come back?”

“Not hardly. There was talk of keeping the middle seats empty and requiring masks. But there are no mandated government regulations. Only phrases like “recommended,” “You might want to consider,” etc. It’s a joke! And, lucky for us, the aisle seats are a lot closer than 6 feet from the window seats anyway.”

“Wow, so we’ll get to spread almost as easily as we did last winter. Some of the masks might help them, but those aren’t regulated either. They can be made out of any old hokey thin cloth, decorated with flowers.”

“Well, I have one other airline question. What about those older humans? And the ones with vulnerable medical conditions. Won’t they be isolated in a separate, protected area of the plane?”

“I’ve read a lot of their news stories, and nobody’s mentioned it. They might ask people if they’ve been sick or even take some of their temperatures. But we can spread from someone who doesn’t even know they’re infected.”

“About the masks. Don’t they have companies mass-producing millions of masks that are certified for the best possible protection, at affordable prices for the general public?”

“Nope. There are no standards at all for consumer-grade masks, and many states have decalared wearing masks optional. And only a portion of the medical supplies are purchased in bulk at the Federal level. The states have to bid against each other for tons of it.

“What about this reopening of restaurants, hair salons, beaches and all the rest?”

“The humans should have read their own history. They could just Google ‘San Francisco 1918 pandemic.’ After their world war ended, San Francisco held a big celebration in the streets. They took off their masks and threw them in the air, and danced like crazy. They opened their businesses way too soon. The flu came back with a huge spike and killed a lot of people. I heard that San Francisco’s current mayor is not going to let us get that same advantage. But plenty of other cities are willing to let us start spreading again.”

“Well, hey, I think we should terminate this conversation immediately.”

“Why is that?”

“We forgot to activate our communication suppressors. One of those humans might be listening.”

“OK. Are you and I still on for this afternoon?”

“Sure thing, buddy. See you at the beach!”

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. From a Distance – By Nanci Griffith, 1987, original version. Or Bette Midler, 1990
  2. Don’t Stand So Close to Me – The Police, 1980
  3. Behind the Mask – Fleetwood Mac, 1990
  4. A Year’s Worth of Distance – Kenny Loggins, 2007
  5. Keep Away From Me – Graham Nash, 1986
  6. Drop the Mask – Diana Ross, 1999
  7. Keeping My Distance – Martina McBride, 1997
  8. Mask Upon My Face – Jeff Bridges, 2000
  9. Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home – Joe South, 1969
  10. All By Myself – Nancy Sinatra

Lyrics to “Behind the Mask” by Fleetwood Mac – Written By Christine McVie

Don’t you come too close to me
You’re dangerous, can’t you see?
You can make the darkness mean more
Than it ever did, ever did before
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
And I recognize the face behind the mask
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
I don’t know if I want you back
You’re the cool nights of the desert
And the hot kisses of the sun
Why is it that I don’t believe you
When you say I’m the only one?
I know I’m the lonely one
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
And I recognize the shadows from your past
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
Don’t you know it’ll never last
The face behind the mask
There will never be a second chance for you
Oh no, not for you
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black and I recognize
The face behind the mask
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
Don’t you know it’ll never last
The face behind the mask
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black and I recognize
The shadows from your past
(It’s a Devil’s disguise)
Angel in black
I don’t know if I want you back
I don’t know if I want you back
Don’t you know it’ll never last
The face behind the mask

If They Build It, Will We Come? – A Partial Solution to the Small Business Challenge

By Bill Oakey – May 6, 2020

The grand reopening of Austin’s economy scares the hell out of some people. And it is gleefully celebrated by others. Is there some kind of midpoint between staying home and shopping online, versus going out to restaurants and retail stores? Well, maybe there is, if local businesses could pool their resources and develop a new concept. I’ve been pondering this idea with some of the many hours of free time lately.

Try to imagine a giant food court with 50 or so restaurants and food vendors. Instead of being inside a mall, it would be set up in an outdoor area that people could drive to. It would be sort of like the restaurants at the airport, except you would drive up to your favorite one and get your food.

it would be an interesting challenge to design such a layout. It would need to accommodate a large number of cars, without requiring people to spend a long time waiting. There could actually be several concurrent lines of cars – one to enter the overall facility, and other sub-entrances inside the facility for each of the vendors. Architects might be able to come up with a few design options that would work. These would be dependent on the size of the facility. And of course, if the concept is successful, there could be several facilities of different sizes around Austin. These would need to be located away from the dense, core areas of the city.

Options for financing this type of venture could include the participation of large real estate or other companies that could develop the facilities and lease the spaces to the small businesses. One possibility might be to tap some undeveloped land and utilize it on a temporary basis.

It might be fun to have such places where people could go and feel safe. To complement our “Keep Austin Weird” motif, there might be all sorts of creative ways to liven up the atmosphere at these outdoor dining havens. Perhaps we could think of it as a Trail of Bites instead of a Trail of Lights. Video screens and speakers could be installed to provide some entertainment. This could include performances by local musicians.

The businesses could raise extra revenue by including some (but not too much) advertising on the video screens. Corporate sponsors could also participate in various ways with signs and art installations. Some vendors could have a speedy drive-through for people who want to just grab their meals and go. But they could also maintain a separate, more relaxed area for people to come and enjoy the entertainment while they’re eating or while they’re waiting for their food.

If the restaurant concept is deemed to be workable, then perhaps other retailers could set up drive-through stores in a similar type of outdoor layout. The technology setup for both the food and the miscellaneous other retail could be developed and enhanced over time. We could be stuck with the virus for many months, especially if it comes back in the fall and piggy-backs with the seasonal flu.

I can envision a portable device app that customers could use to do pre-orders before they arrive at the facility. The app would specify the lead time required for each type of purchase. For restaurants, there would be simple menus where you could tap on which items to order, along with daily specials that could be changed by the restaurant at will. The non-food retailers could have listings of products to choose from, along with coupons to tap on. A single app could be developed collaboratively and shared by all of the participating retailers. This would make things easier and more efficient for both the businesses and the customers

Some retailers could opt to have separate parking areas, in addition to a drive-through. In the parking areas, customers could request that an item be brought to a safe distance from their car, so they can take a closer look before deciding whether to buy.

This whole idea may seem like a lot of trouble for retailers who wold much rather have their customers come into the stores and browse and buy as they normally do. But these are not normal times. If the grand reopening of Texas leads to a big second wave of the virus, then large numbers of potential customers may choose to stay home. Having a new kind of onsite shopping option available for local businesses might be beneficial. This is especially true for businesses that are too small to maintain a major presence on the Internet, similar to Amazon.

The balancing act between preserving safety and boosting the economy is a tough nut to crack. But Austin should be a good place for people with the right technical skills and business expertise to explore new ways to defeat the silent enemy.

Vote Against Proposition A, But For Props J And K

By Bill Oakey, November 1, 2018

It has been a long while since I updated this blog. But I wanted to get the word out about the propositions on the ballot. There is one day left for early voting, and if you miss that, be sure to vote on Tuesday.

Vote Against A Quarter Billion Dollars For Affordable Housing!

The City Council really went over the edge on this one. Remember when affordable housing bonds were in the $50 to $75 million range? Or at the most, not much over $100 million? If this quarter-billion bonanza passes, you can be sure that it will become the new standard. If it doesn’t, then it would be going even higher! We simply cannot afford to allow that kind of precedent to get started.

I don’t even know what the City Council was thinking! We had a $720 million mobility bond election in 2016. Then, just last year AISD hit us over the head with $1 billion in bonds. And they did that during a period of rapid declines in enrollment. It’s as if our local officials have decided that money is no longer an issue for taxpayers. We all have so much money, that we hardly know what to do with it. If that’s the case, I wish somebody would show me what rock to look under to find my extra pile of cash.

Here’s the problem with spending a quarter-billion on affordable housing. The City has tried for years to set up “density bonus” programs and so-called Smart Housing initiatives. But none of them have ever been very successful. So, now it appears that they have simply thrown in the towel. Just let the taxpayers pay for it. We need to encourage all of our family and friends to reject that notion with an exuberant, resounding NO vote on Proposition A.

Vote Yes on Prop J – Let the Public Decide on Our Next Major Building Code

The whole CodeNext debacle was a developer-led effort to turn Austin into San Francisco or Portland. It stands as one of the most colossal boondoggles in the City’s history. Across the city, various groups of citizens spent weeks, months and years hovered over maps and charts as they worked with City officials to develop their individual neighborhood plans. The developers made no secret of the fact that they wanted CodeNext to completely obliterate those neighbored plans.

The hodgepodge of a report that finally emerged from CodeNext was so confusing and marred by lack of trust, that the City Council abandoned it in time to keep it from ruining some of their re-election plans. This was unquestionably the fact with our mayor. There is also little doubt that whatever the City Staff does with CodeNext, it will probably come back to the Council as merely an attempt to dress up what the consultants tried to foist upon us to begin with.

Our best solution is to vote for Prop J, to require voter approval of all major updates to the Land Development Code. This would ensure that the City Council recognizes that it isn’t just the real estate industry and the developers who matter when it comes to such a major change. It is the well-being of current residents in their cherished neighborhoods that matters most.

Don’t Listen to the Fear-Mongers – Vote For Prop K!

Think real hard when you ask yourself this question. When has efficiency ever caused calamity in a City? Who has ever been chased down and attacked by a menacing creature, threatening to make the City most efficient and cheaper for the taxpayers? You have heard the fear-mongers wail about “dark money” and raise the evil specter of the Koch Brothers. I seriously doubt is those guys have ever heard of Prop K. And even if they have, it doesn’t matter. The independent efficiency audit will be completely under the control of the City Council. They get to decide who gets hired to run the audit. They get to decide what elements of the recommendations get adopted. And all of us will get a chance to provide our input throughout the entire process.

There are both prominent liberals and conservatives backing Prop K, including David King and Ed English. Should there be better transparency with regard to contributions to these PAC’s? Absolutely! If dark money was used and somebody wants to tighten the transparency requirements, or even challenge the lack of disclosure in this case, we should be all for that. But it has nothing to do with the validity of the audit.

Citywide efficiency audits are not carried out by internal audit staff. They do not have the time or the specialized skills. That’s why numerous cities and states across the country have had positive results from these types of audits. The usual crowd of go-along-to-get-along naysayers are opposing Prop K. They are using whatever fear tactics they can conjure up. Of course the City employee unions are scared to death of it. They are worried about layoffs. It may well be that Austin needs to do some serious streamlining of operations. But that doesn’t mean that employees couldn’t be transferred. And positions could be eliminated by attrition rather than layoffs. And the cost of the audit? It would be made up probably ten times over by the good efficiency recommendations.

Don’t be scared of efficiency. There is no evil monster hiding in the closet! Bogeymen do not lurk in the shadows for the pursuit of saving money for taxpayers. Lon Chaney would never have even considered it.

 

The School Property Tax Double Whammy – Please Spread The Word On This!

By Bill Oakey – February 21, 2018

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again. AISD’s property taxes are the single biggest threat to Austin affordability. Nothing else even comes close. But if you thought the Robin Hood funding disparity was the only issue, guess what…That is only half of the problem. Each half of the problem is pretty scary, but taken together it’s a disaster. So, as soon as you finish reading this, please share it with as many people as you can. Our only hope in surviving the disaster is if enough people get motivated to speak out against it.

The State of Texas Is Double-Dipping on Your School Property Taxes…Here’s How It Works

Several years ago, the total State share of public school funding was 50%. The rest came from local property tax dollars. And as you know, big cities like Austin have to send back hundreds of millions of dollars each year in Robin Hood “recapture” payments. ($533 million this year). Those funds go to “property poor” school districts.

Every year for the past several years, our property appraisals have been going up. This is happening in all of the big cities that contribute to the Robin Hood system. That has caused school property taxes to skyrocket. And that’s where the double whammy comes in. The State is siphoning off this windfall of extra revenue, and spending it for non-educational items in the budget.

Here’s how it works. Technically, all of the Robin Hood revenue does flow to the property-poor school districts. But each year, as the pot of recapture money increases, the State decreases its share of public school funding. The “leftover money” from reducing public school funding gets spent on other items in the budget. This is a backdoor method of enacting a full-blown statewide property tax! That type of tax is unconstitutional, and it was ruled unconstitutional by the lower court. Then, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional, but “badly flawed.”

Let’s Take a Look At the Seismic Shift In State School Funding

State Representative Donna Howard’s office prepared this graphic that illustrates the problem. Here are the highlights:

  1. The State contribution to public school funding sinks from 45.3% to 31.7% from 2011 to the projection for 2019.
  2. The local property tax share shoots up from 54.7% to a projected 68.3% in the same period
  3. School property taxes make up 54% of your property tax bill.

Here’s how that looks in actual dollars for the same 8-year period:

  1. Local property tax share increases by $7 billion
  2. State share decreases by $3 billion

If you think all over those numbers look scary, just consider this – Every single one of them will get worse every single year unless we organize and mobilize to push for reforms!

Is the Robin Hood System Bad, Or Is It REALLY Bad?

These figures come from the AISD website. And remember, Robin Hood is only half of the double whammy…

  1. AISD is projected to send nearly $2.6 billion in recapture payments to the State between 2016 and 2020.
  2. By 2019, more than half of AISD’s local school property tax dollars will be sent back to the State

How Does Texas Public School Funding Compare With Other States?

On a national basis, Texas looks pitiful. You would think that business leaders would be the first to demand better educated candidates to fill critical jobs. But in Texas, “business-friendly” means lower taxes and less regulation. I would encourage these folks to take a hard, sobering look at some of these numbers. The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest report shows these rankings for per-student public school spending in fiscal year 2015. (Imagine how bad it must be now!)

  1. State funding per student: Texas ranked #47, with $4,189
  2. Local property tax funding per student: Texas ranked #19, with $5,716

What Are Our State Politicians Doing About This?

Some would like to spend more money on charter schools and less on public schools. And some want to restore the State share of public school funding to at least 50%. That’s where it was before the real estate boom caused the annual explosion of our property appraisals. But there is a cruel irony in all of this.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick are blaming your high property taxes on cities and counties. They are running their reelection campaigns on a promise to put a cap on the revenue that cities and counties can raise through property taxes.  This is a slick political trick that takes the growing public frustration over high property taxes and spins it upside down and backwards.

The State school financing system is the problem! And if it continues on its current path, Austin taxpayers will indeed face a true disaster. I contend that it is simply not sustainable. Unless enough wealthy people move here to completely displace nearly everyone who has lived in Austin for more than ten years or so. And after a while, even those newcomers would start to fume over the property taxes. The projected numbers are staggering.

Here’s What You Can Do to Help

  1. If you get a flier in the mail from anybody running for office that promises property tax reform by blaming it on city or county taxes, stick it right here:
  2. Send this blog post to every pertinent organization that you belong to. Encourage them to distribute it to all of their members. If they have regular meetings, ask them to put it on their upcoming agenda for discussion. Invite good speakers to make a presentation.
  3. Make sure that you and your family and friends vote for candidates that recognize and admit the true cause of high property taxes!

Finally, Here Are Two Things That We Need to Fight For

  1. The Robin Hood recapture system needs to be reformed to make it fairer for Austin and the other big cities. Austin has a huge number of students living in poverty.
  2. The State needs to stop double-dipping on our local school property taxes. They need to increase the State share of funding for public schools back to at least 50%, if not more.

Let’s Bring AISD Into the CodeNext Process – To Avoid An “Affordability Perfect Storm”

By Bill Oakey, January 22, 2018

The following is an email that I sent this morning to Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and City Council Member Alison Alter:

Hello Mayor Pro Tem Tovo & CM Alter:

At a meeting about affordability issues at AISD last week, I offered to try to help bring AISD and City officials closer together on CodeNext. So, let me introduce all of you in this email to Beth Wilson, AISD’s Director of Planning Services. I am also sending this email to Nicole Conley Johnson, Chief Financial Officer for AISD and her Executive Assistant, Amanda Ortiz.

It is my understanding that AISD would like to have much greater access to the CodeNext revision process, and to have their concerns addressed fully before the final draft is completed.

As an affordability and taxpayer advocate, I believe that CodeNext should be structured in a way that would allow families with children to remain in their homes. And new development in many existing neighborhoods should be affordable for families with children. In recent years, too many families have been forced to leave AISD because of high property taxes and gentrification.

We can see the devastating results reflected in AISD’s annual student enrollment drops. To add insult to injury, AISD is projected to send $2.6 billion in local tax revenue back to the State over the next five years, under the “Robin Hood” school finance system. This toxic combination of factors could result in an “affordability perfect storm” for AISD and Central Texas taxpayers.

Therefore, I strongly recommend that the City work closely with AISD to ensure that the CodeNext process not only includes full participation by AISD, but also implements code policies that reflect their concerns.

Thank you for any help you can provide to facilitate the engagement between the City and AISD. Below is an American-Statesman editorial that focuses on the importance of this collaboration:
Viewpoints: City should not overlook Austin ISD in CodeNext talks
 
By Editorial Board
Posted: 10:07 a.m. Friday, November 24, 2017
 

“We need a seat at the table.”

That is the message the Austin Independent School District is sending to the city of Austin with a proposed resolution regarding CodeNext that trustees are expected to approve Monday.

A firm statement outlining the district’s position on CodeNext is needed because city officials thus far have overlooked – if not ignored — Austin ISD’s input and concerns, though the district has a huge stake in the rewrite of city zoning and land-use rules, said Kendall Pace, president of the school board.

Consider that Austin ISD is one of the city’s largest property owners with 145 facilities. Its boundaries encompass 230 square miles, said chief financial officer Nicole Conley Johnson. That’s about three-fourths the size of New York City, about 305 square miles. With 11,500 employees, the district also is one of the region’s largest employers.

Austin ISD’s interests, however, go beyond property and employment issues. They include families. At this point, the district is losing families and students because of massive redevelopment in core neighborhoods — mostly in East Austin — that is displacing lower-income families with kids to make way for higher-income families with fewer or no children.

Even as Austin’s population is growing, the district’s enrollment, now at 82,000, is declining. Austin ISD administrators and trustees worry that without key changes to CodeNext, those trends will accelerate.

“Displacement of families living in those core Austin neighborhoods – and not competition from charter or private schools – is the primary driver for our enrollment declines,” Conley Johnson said.

Pace, Conley and others said they’ve tried to get a coordinated planning effort going with the city, but have been ping-ponged around different offices without progress.

That back-and-forth bureaucracy prompted Austin ISD officials to take a more public, forceful approach with something in writing they aim to back with a vote in hopes of grabbing the city’s attention: a resolution that mostly is centered around stabilizing enrollment declines by holding on to and creating more affordable housing.

Specifically, the resolution emphasizes the need for CodeNext to create more duplexes, townhomes, apartments and additional dwelling units that are affordable for families earning 60 percent or less of Austin’s median family income and housing for teachers and staff.

It also calls for limits on up-zoning that doesn’t help lower-income families, especially in areas affected by gentrification, such as East Austin.

Another request encourages the preservation of older-market, affordable, single-family detached homes, duplexes and multi-unit apartments by not increasing entitlements on existing properties without a clear affordability requirement.

The resolution calls for an expansion of incentives, such as density bonuses that permit developers to build taller or with greater density in exchange for benefits, such as affordable housing. But they should be combined with other incentives or funding to create permanently affordable housing instead of studio or one-bedroom apartments.

It’s worth noting that more than half Austin ISD students are economically disadvantaged. Their families depend on “deeply affordable” or subsidized housing. The resolution points out that most new housing units that are being built are small, expensive apartments and condos that aren’t family friendly. It notes that just 46 children were enrolled in Austin ISD in 6,895 new units that were sampled.

The district’s resolution also objects to CodeNext’s reductions for onsite parking in residential and commercial areas near schools, which they say could create safety problems for students and hinder access to school grounds.

In our view, those are legitimate concerns that should be addressed by the city sooner rather than later. The city’s lack of response so far only gives credence to critics who complain that the CodeNext rewrite is too heavily dominated by a narrow group of city staffers and paid consultants.

With so many unanswered questions regarding CodeNext, which would determine the city’s physical and economic makeup for decades to come, we recently called for a pause so the city could answer residents’ concerns. Following that, the city announced it would slow down the release of a third draft of CodeNext and perhaps push back its April deadline for approval.

That is progress. But the city must do more in ensuring that Austin residents understand how CodeNext – contained in more than 1,300 pages — would impact their communities, then seek their input on revising proposals that don’t address Austin’s affordability crisis, economic segregation and the displacement of families leaving Austin ISD because they no longer can afford the rent, mortgage or property taxes.

They should answer concerns of others, who point out that Austin needs more so-called missing-middle housing for the thousands of people flocking to Austin each year. Questions linger about how CodeNext would address Austin’s growing traffic congestion. Over the next decade, the city will need about 130,000 homes to fill Austin’s housing needs, city officials have said.

We understand that density, which allows more to be built on less land, is a way to address such challenges. But up-zoning for the sake of generating more housing — without an eye on whether that would worsen the housing crisis for working and low-income families, further segregate the city, or accelerate enrollment declines in public schools — could prove disastrous.

“We need a seat at the table,” Pace told us in explaining the need for the resolution. “We want input.”

The city should waste no time in making room for Austin ISD at the CodeNext discussion.

New Blog Launches To Help Support Austin’s Music Industry

By Bill Oakey – January 18, 2018

Anyone who has lived in Austin for a while knows that we are very proud of our nationally recognized creative industries. This includes music and all of the arts. But affordability issues have cut deeply into the well-being of many musicians, artists and venue owners. High rents caused by high property taxes and gentrification are the main sources of this problem.

So, today I am launching a new blog called, KeepAustinMusicAlive.com. This blog will feature occasional updates on efforts by local music and arts advocates to find solutions to some of the affordability issues. You will also find some entertaining surprises on the blog, beginning today. So, go ahead and click on it now and consider following KeepAustinMusicAlive.com.