- Austin police request 7% increase in new budget, partly for officers, Aug. 22
- Travis County peace officers see an average raise of 10.5% at cost of $10.1 million, Sept. 1
Now consider this recent Statesman headline: "Property taxes in Texas up nearly 200% over the last two decades, comptroller says," (Aug. 23). For perspective, check out the left-column charts on page three of this report (pdf) from the Texas Comptroller documenting property tax and sales tax increases over the last two decades. Both categories of taxes have increased well beyond what would have been needed to keep up with population growth and inflation. An earlier Statesman report found that, even adjusting for inflation, "The property tax bill for a typical Austin home rose 38 percent between 2000 and 2010," with tax levies by the City of Austin increasing an inflation-adjusted 44%.
Almost all of the City of Austin's recent increased spending is attributable to the public safety budget. In 2010, the Austin Chronicle quoted city councilmember Bill Spelman who calculated that, "'Over the last 10 years, public safety spending per person, in real terms, has gone up by nearly 50 percent since the year 2000,' a 45% increase from $365 to $529." Meanwhile, "'Spending on everything else in the General Fund, has gone up by 2 percent since 2000,' from a little over $175 to $178." Said Spelman, "We've taken all the new money we've gotten from property taxes, sales taxes, and what have you, and put it all into public safety. And none of it into parks, libraries, health and human services, development services, and so on. It's all gone to public safety."
Nationally one hears conservatives complain about public-employee unions as a major driver of government spending, but at the local level in Austin that's mainly only true of law enforcement. Teachers and other government employees don't have the clout to command the kind of raises one routinely sees among peace officers in the capital city.