Tag Archives: Steve Adler

Affordability Challenges And The Needed Reforms

By Bill Oakey – July 15, 2014

The following is my presentation for the South Travis United Democrats on July 15h.  It provides a good overview of affordability.

The Challenges

1. Lip Service to Affordability – Austin’s current political leaders pay lip service to affordability, but have shown no willingness to take meaningful action.  We need to elect a new City Council that will listen to the concerns of existing residents, and adhere to specific plans and policies that will improve affordability.

2. Taxes – The City financial staff are projecting a whopping 33.6% increase in property tax revenues over the next five years.  This rate of increase is simply unsustainable, because of stagnant wages and income inequality.

3. Gentrification – The City’s planning policies depend on accelerating gentrification in order to make room for tens of thousands of new residents every year.  If you want your voices to be heard, you need to speak up loudly and you need to vote.

4. Affordable Housing – Apartments and duplexes in the central core are being bulldozed and replaced by luxury units.  The goal of the Imagine Austin plan and CodeNEXT is density, density, and more density.  But very little of it is “affordable” for existing residents.  The argument that density in the urban core reduces sprawl is bogus.  It forces people out into the less expensive suburbs and increases sprawl.  And then the commuting expense becomes a burden.

5. Transportation – The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) estimates that it will cost $32.4 billion to build new roads, rail systems, etc. between 2015 and 2040.  That works out to $1.3 billion per year for the five-county area.  This assumes massive population growth, which of course is unsustainable because of the unrealistic cost projections and the lack of water.

6. Unfair Tax Appraisals – Commercial property owners are only being assessed at about 60% of the market value of their property.  It will take Legislative reform to fix this inequity.  We need to support Brigid Shea, who is leading that effort.

7. Public Engagement – For 28 years I have observed citizens waiting up to six hours to speak at City Council meetings.  And the public input allowed for consultant-driven planning processes is often blatantly ignored or given only a token nod.  It is time for the people to unite behind two critical reforms (See below).

8. Wasteful City Budgets – The City staff does not provide adequate transparency on budget balances throughout the year.  Spending is never tied to even the vaguest notion of the public’s ability to pay.  The status quo will price even more people out of their homes, unless we adopt some reforms.

9. Truth In Taxation – Every year at budget time, the City Council hides behind the “tax rate” and crows about “holding the line” on the rate.  You and I know that increased tax appraisals drive the taxes up.  It is long past time for a truthful, transparent process.  (See reform below).

10. Water and Electric Rates – Both utilities need to do more to control rate increases, and to slow down the freight train of utility add-on fees that are spiraling out of control.

The Reforms

1. Work for Good City Council Candidates – We all need to work hard to elect the best affordability candidates.  I strongly support Eliza May for District 8, Kathie Tovo for District 9, Laura Pressley for District 4, Ora Houston for District 1, Ann Kitchen for District 5, Mandy Dealey for District 10, and Steve Adler for Mayor.  Other endorsements will come later.

2. Taxes – The City needs to coordinate better with the other local taxing entities.  We can’t afford the level of spending and cumulative tax increases that keep pummeling us every year.  The City needs to phase in a general homestead exemption.

3. Gentrification – Instead of whispering about this problem under our breath, we need to insist on a valid study that looks at the issue head-on.  How do other cities deal with it?  What can be done to retain the ethnic and economic diversity that any city needs for a vibrant quality of life?  Let’s start with a broad-based campaign to raise the minimum wage, provide better job training, and create jobs that are in between service sector and high paying tech jobs.

4. Affordable Housing – This is a perfect example of a topic that gets good lip service.  Let’s ask local leaders to survey the housing, establish some goals, and implement a plan that delivers actual results.  Then post those results online so that everyone can assess the progress.

5. Transportation – Vote against the expensive urban rail plan.  It’s in the wrong location, according to most experts who have reviewed Austin transit plans for decades.  Let’s change the MoPac “Improvement” Plan to provide free access for carpools and private vanpools in the express lanes.  That’s how nearly every city listed on the MoPac website does it.

6. Unfair Tax Appraisals – We should invite AISD into the discussions, and bring them along with Austin and Travis County into the Capitol in January to insist on this reform.  And we need a statewide network of other communities to help carry the reform to victory.

7. Public Engagement – I have prepared a proposal for a Public Engagement Ordinance that would require the City to include public input in all planning processes in a meaningful and quantifiable manner.  The Austin Neighborhoods Council will consider a resolution supporting this proposal at an upcoming meeting.  The City should also adopt my proposal for City Council Agenda Reform, so that people can speak at designated times.  It is time for our voices to be taken seriously.

8. Wasteful City Budgets – Austin needs to preserve budget surpluses for holding down tax increases.  We need much better transparency on budget balances throughout the year.  Instead of funding unfilled vacancies at 9.7% of the workforce, let’s get it down to 5%.  Let’s eliminate fee waivers for profitable event promoters.

9. Truth In Taxation – I have proposed a “Taxpayer Impact Statement” that would be included in the City Budget.  It would show the true percentage increase in taxes above the effective rate.  In other words, the percentage increase above the amount that would keep revenues the same.  This statement would show the dollar impact on a wide range of home values.  And it would also include the increases in utility rates and fees.

10. Water and Electric Rates – Consider transferring this year’s budget surplus to the water utility to reduce the double-decker rate increase.  For Austin Energy, we need to adopt a cost of service model that does not penalize residential and small business ratepayers.  We lost that portion of the battle in the 2012 electric rate case.  We need a thorough review of all utility add-on fees, and a plan to reduce them as much as possible.

Let’s All Get Behind Steve Adler For Mayor!

By Bill Oakey – July 2, 2014

As Austin transitions to a new 10-1 district system for electing City Council members, we face a unique opportunity to consider new leadership in the mayor’s race.  As someone who has worked hard to find solutions to Austin’s affordability issues, I am pleased to support Steve Adler to be our next mayor.

SIA HeadshotA new way forward

I urge everyone who has not yet learned about Steve to check out his campaign website here.

For many, the decision on whom to support in the mayor’s race may not seem easy.  It was difficult for me as well initially.  But one thing became clear right away.  The two incumbents on the City Council who are running for mayor have one huge disadvantage.  Their voting records do not stand up to the challenges we face on affordability.  A fairly simple test can be applied when considering either one of the incumbents.  If they come to a public forum now and announce that they have found a solution to affordability, just ask yourself one question.  Why haven’t they done something about it already?  They have been on the Council for several years.

Now It Is Time For A Change.  Here’s Why Steve Adler Is Our Best Choice

Here are some of Steve’s positions on affordability:

1. Truth In Taxation and Transparency

Steve:  “There should full transparency when it comes to taxation and the
budget.  Austin taxpayers must be told where their money is going and how
much in taxes, both rate and amount, they are being asked to pay.  We must
better ensure truth in taxation and in the budget.”

Steve and I have discussed my proposal for a Taxpayer Impact Statement to be included in the budget.  The new reform will ensure that the City Council can no longer just say they are “holding the line on the tax rate,” when skyrocketing tax appraisals cause huge tax increases.  Steve is so firm on this issue that he has challenged me to help him make sure that the reform as adopted will be rock solid.

2. City Council Meeting Agenda Reform

Steve:  “Citizens have the right to a meaningful and accessible opportunity to be heard when the City Council is making decisions that affect their lives.  The current agenda process must be reformed so as avoid having citizens sit for too many hours before their item comes up for discussion and in too many cases is postponed without meaningful advance notice.”

This reform proposal began in 1986 and has now reached its 28th anniversary.  Let’s elect Steve so we can celebrate a true victory for the voices of the people at City Hall!

3. Property Tax Inequity Between Homeowners and Commercial Taxpayers

Steve:  “Our inequitable Texas tax system unduly burdens residential property owners and tenants.  Like so many of Austin¹s challenges, this is a problem we have experienced for years and have failed to make substantial progress. We must be far more proactive in working with the Mayors and City Councils in other towns and cities throughout the State to bring real reform to this unfair system and in pushing forward and supporting our City’s state delegation. We must increase residential property exemptions and do so in an equitable manner.”

Steve’s experience working in the Legislature will help us carry this battle across the finish line.

Why Do I Think Steve Adler Is The Best Person for the Job?

The guy is just so gosh-darned smart!  It’s not even fair that he’s that smart.  But he is and we need to tell everyone we know that he’s the one we need for mayor.  Email, Facebook and Tweet this blog posting.  Go to his website and sign up to be notified of his upcoming events.  Click on the DONATE button at the top of the screen.  Bring your neighbors and friends to his events and to the public forums in the mayor’s race.  In November, we can either go back to business as usual or join Steve in a New Way Forward.

SIA HeadshotA new way forward

Austin Leaders Should Unite Behind Tax Appraisal Reform

By Bill Oakey – June 4, 2014

The Travis County Commissioners Court took the first step on Monday toward meaningful action on tax appraisal reform.  Thanks in large part to the efforts of commissioner candidate, Brigid Shea, the Court is seriously exploring whether to legally challenge all of the commercial tax appraisals in Travis County.  Two stunning facts tell the story of gross inequities in the current system:

1. Commercial property is currently being assessed at only about 60% of its market value, thanks to a gaping loophole in State law.

2. The Travis Central Appraisal District is out-gunned by high priced lawyers who often sue in court and win if those property owners don’t get the appraisals they want from TCAD.

The end result is that residential homeowners get the shaft.  And with Austin taxes hitting unsustainable levels, local leaders are speaking out on the need for reform.  If the County Commissioners follow through with their challenge, the entire state will take notice, and regardless of the outcome, the Legislature will be confronted with the issue come January.

County Judge Sam Biscoe stated after the discussions in executive session on Monday that a lot of legal questions will need to be answered before commissioners can decide whether to take action.  A formal challenge would trigger the need to find out what set of appraisals the City, County, and other taxing entities would use for tax collections in the upcoming year.  A potential delay in tax collections could jeopardize the chances of a challenge being filed.  The issue will return to the Commissioners Court on June 17th.  At that time, homeowners will be given an opportunity to speak.

City Council Member Kathie Tovo has scheduled an item for the City to consider an appeal as well.  What would really be helpful would be a coordinated effort, including AISD.  The year of 2014 apparently marks the tipping point where citizens and local leaders have finally gotten the message.  Austin cannot continue to grow and maintain a booming economy unless there is available money to pay for services.  Homeowners cannot be expected to carry a lopsided portion of that burden.  It’s not even a matter of whether they WANT to pay.  The fact is that rapidly increasing numbers of them simply can’t afford to pay any more.

Mayoral Candidate Steve Adler Adds His Voice To The Call For Reform

I especially appreciate the comments that Steve Adler made on Monday in his handout to the packed crowd of frustrated homeowners at the Commissioners Court on Monday:

“Residential property owners are being unfairly burdened with property taxes. The city and local governments should have challenged the system years ago. There is nothing new about this problem and it is good to see Travis County considering action now.”

“Politicians should be honest when they talk to taxpayers about raising taxes, regardless of what they do with the tax rates. Taxpayers deserve truth in taxation.”

Mr. Adler’s characteristic breadth of scope in approaching complex issues will place him ahead of the pack when it comes to tackling property tax issues.  His experience working in the Legislature will help with respect to appraisal reform.  And he has made it clear in discussions with me that he would not tolerate the deceptive City Hall practice of hiding behind the tax rate during annual budget deliberations.  It was Steve Adler who brought to my attention the fact that the 7/10 of a cent tax rate reduction in the City Manager’s budget forecast actually adds up to a 5.5% tax increase.

I was reminded of John Kerry’s comment in his acceptance speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, “Imagine a President who believes in science!”  Well, how about this.  “Imagine a mayor who believes in truth in taxation!”

You Have Been Summoned By the Austin Bulldog

By Bill Oakey – May 4, 2014

If you are reading this blog, the chances are pretty good that you would be interested in an online publication that thrives on investigative reporting about public officials.  It’s called the Austin Bulldog, and you really need to check it out.  In addition to detailed profiles of current local officeholders, you will also find hidden truths and occasional skeletons pulled out of the closets of candidates who are seeking those offices.  The good news about these candidates is up front as well, based on extensive research and interviews with associates who are intimately familiar with their backgrounds.

The mad dog behind this publication is Ken Martin, who originally started In-Fact Daily as a weekly.  In-Fact is a subscription based newsletter that delivers detailed coverage of the hottest agenda topics at Austin City Hall and Travis County.  The publication is now edited by Jo Clifton, and has recently been renamed the Austin Monitor.

But you can read the Austin Bulldog for free.  They are currently examining many of the candidates running for the ten new district-based City Council seats.  And of course, you’ll find coverage of the mayor’s race.  Ken Martin has just published Part Two of his in-depth analysis of mayoral hopeful, Steve Adler.   I encourage everyone to follow this series on Mr. Adler.  Steve is much better known for his work at the Texas Legislature and for educational nonprofits than he is for direct involvement with City of Austin political issues.  The latest Bulldog piece quotes numerous sources as having high praise for Adler.

At this early point in the mayor’s race, all of the candidates deserve our attention.  But the buzz on the street among progressives is that business as usual at City Hall is not working out very well these days.  Unless one of the experienced, currently serving candidates comes up with some form of bold action to counter their previous voting records, we may be looking for new leadership.

One place to look for clues about the backgrounds of both the current and aspiring new officeholders is the Austin Bulldog.  And if you like what you read, you might consider making a voluntary donation.  Then hold onto your seats for a wild and crazy ride, from now all the way to November.  As many in our community have stated, Austin is at a crossroads.  We’re at that proverbial tipping point, where renters, homeowners, medium-skilled job seekers, and longtime Austinites are collectively shaking their heads.  Affordability is a major issue.  This upcoming election may well be the most important one we have faced in several decades.