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Protect public safety from ‘revenue caps’

Guest Column
Sunday, April 7, 2019

The State of Texas should not cap San Marcos’ ability to protect public safety and other critical and basic needs.

Right now, state legislators are advancing a “revenue cap” proposal that could be disastrous for people in San Marcos and across Texas.

What revenue caps actually do is limit what cities can spend on police, firefighters, roads, economic development, and other quality-of-life needs that residents demand and that attract the employers and workers at the heart of the “Texas Miracle.”

Like all of us, legislators are concerned about property taxes. The largest burden of our tax bill is generated by an under-supported school system. That’s why Texas’ leadership and legislature are to be applauded for their work on legislation to increase education funding and create real property tax savings for homeowners.

But revenue caps help with none of that. Instead, provisions of House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 propose a 2.5 percent cap on what cities can raise from property taxes. This “cap” would make it impossible for cities and counties to maintain existing services, much less increase or introduce new services our community needs.

If the legislature insists on imposing revenue caps, it must allow exemptions for public safety, roads, and other basic priorities that the city and state share.

HB2 and SB2 have no such exclusions. Instead, these bills would create a $2 million budget deficit over two years in San Marcos, considering inflation and built-in cost drivers such as health insurance and public safety wages. And most Texas cities — including San Marcos — spend a large portion of their budgets on public safety. Currently, San Marcos spends $28 million, or 35 percent, of the general fund on Fire and Police services. It’s impossible to absorb a $1 million annual deficit without cuts to vital city services.

In San Marcos, a $1 million annual deficit in FY19 would have required a reduction equal to one of the following expenses- 13 police officers, 12 firefighters, 56 percent of the library’s budget, or 99 percent of our animal shelter’s budget. These have real-world impacts on our everyday lives. A $1 million annual deficit means delaying or eliminating miles of road building and street maintenance. Economic development activities that support jobs, investment, local small businesses and major employers would be among the first things cut.

In average years, such low caps would trigger budget crises. But even in relatively good years, conservative city leaders would feel pressured to raise taxes in ways that create a cushion to protect citizens in less-prosperous times.

Even worse, to negate the damage that caps cause, Texans in every community would have to go to the polls year after year, jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction, just to protect their own communities. Such election schemes create tremendous uncertainty for San Marcos. They invite out-of-town political operatives to sway our politics, and it becomes difficult to make long-term policy commitments.

Cities in Texas are among the fastest growing in the country, especially Central Texas. They propel the state’s economy. State leaders often talk about the people and companies moving to Texas — cities and counties provide the basic services that allow for that growth. We’ve created a better quality of life for all of us. We’ve kept each other safe, made it easier to get around and provided the quality of life make people proud to call San Marcos home.

HB2 and SB2 would endanger all of that. Revenue caps are bad for the people of San Marcos, especially without exemptions for public safety and other necessities. Contact your legislators and state leaders — tell them public safety and basic needs must be protected.

Jane Hughson is mayor of San Marcos.