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Van Eenoo outlines losses under pending bills

Thursday, May 23, 2019 by Jo Clifton

The city of Austin – and other cities that collect telecommunications and cable franchise fees – can expect a hit to its budget in 2020 in addition to the lowered revenue caps proposed in Senate Bill 2, according to Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo. Van Eenoo explained that SB 1152 mandates that cities may collect either a telecommunications fee or a cable franchise fee, but not both, as has been the practice. If that bill is signed into law, which seems likely, Van Eenoo told members of the Regional Affordability Committee on Wednesday, the city will lose an estimated $4 million in Fiscal Year 2019-20 and $5.6 million in subsequent years. That’s in addition to the decrease in revenues projected as a result of SB 2, which would cap revenue increases at 3.5 percent without a public vote approving a higher rate, compared to the current 8 percent. In his General Fund base forecast of this week, Van Eenoo projected an $18.5 million deficit for FY 2020-21. Noting that 68 percent of the city budget is for public safety services, Van Eenoo said his expenditure forecast reflected adding 30 new police officers and one new fire/EMS station per year. Under that scenario, he projected the city’s deficit to be $58.2 million by FY 2023-24 if the 3.5 percent revenue cap is passed into law. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who chairs the committee, asked Van Eenoo how much the average taxpayer would save under the legislation. He said it would be about $1.80 a month next year. Counties will face similar if not worse reductions in revenues because they have fewer avenues to raise money; for example, counties do not collect sales tax. Travis County Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea said, “It is really crucial for the public to understand that this is a coordinated effort that’s happening all over the country. The head of the Texas Municipal League said at a recent press conference this legislation is identical from state to state down to the comma. So I think it would be important for the public to understand who’s really pushing this … kind of legislation, (people including) Grover Norquist, who is … completely anti-government. His mantra is … ‘Our goal is to shrink government til it’s small enough to drown in the bathtub.

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