When it comes to controlling spending, it may be time to ask whether lawmakers are working for those who pay the taxes, or working for their own re-election.
Moving through the special session in Austin are measures that will supposedly rein in local government decisions and give power to voters.
Actually, voters already have that power. Let’s take a closer look.
Statist theory begins with the belief that citizens aren’t smart enough to control the annual budgeting processes at City Hall. Such an attitude produces an outcome that sounds good but isn’t.
What they aren’t telling you is the result could very well be something that you don’t want, with the consequences being a reduction in the quality of life for all residents.
Nowhere in government do citizens have more access, more control and more power than they do in their own communities.
We choose those we want to serve on the City Council. In most cities, that power comes around annually. If we don’t like what mayors and council members are doing, we can replace them with those who will do what we want.
They are required to make decisions in the full light of public view, and we always have direct access to them, their meetings, their deliberations, their records and their decisions.
There’s no place for them to hide from us. There are no mysteries about what they are up to. They live among us, in our neighborhoods; we have their phone numbers and their email addresses, and all we have to do is use our power over them.
We can attend their meetings and fully engage them face to face in the midst of their deliberations and easily challenge them to do what we want.
At budget time, we have opportunities to tell them how much money to spend on the things we want and not to spend on the things we don’t want.
There are town hall meetings, district representatives conduct open forums and the entire City Council is required to hold public hearings on spending decisions and where to set the property tax rate to produce the revenue needed to carry out those decisions.
If the Legislature makes new law that results in arbitrarily limiting the range of those local powers, we lose the ability to shape our communities the way we want them.
State politicians say such a law results in more power in the hands of taxpayers.
Such a simplistic claim, while making them popular and helping them get re-elected, may just result in outcomes that few will find they want.
I haven’t encountered many people who want to pay higher taxes.
I’ve encountered even fewer who want to cut back on improvements to streets and roads, the number of police and fire safety personnel, parks, libraries, water quality or any of the things essential to our quality of life.
Setting an artificial limit on revenue growth by requiring an election just to maintain local services and facilities at current levels will inevitably result in their deterioration.
The outcome, over time, will be a city in decline. That’s because costs to deliver those services will increase as they always do.
Mayors, City Council members, and municipal officials across the state have delivered that message, yet legislators proceed with this demagoguery promising tax relief.
And here’s what they are not telling us unless pinned down: There’s nothing in the proposed legislation that will result in a decrease in anyone’s property taxes.
Declarations of “tax reform” ring hollow when that sobering fact sinks in.
It’s not about taxes. It’s about holding on to political power, and we shouldn’t fall for it.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.