The city of Austin has spent nearly $300,000 on holiday parties over the past two years.
Officials defended this splurge, saying that city employees deserve recognition for all their hard work. However, a tip from an employee was what spurred an investigation by local news media in the first place.
Their analysis yielded an interesting find: the city of Houston, which employs 22,000 workers — around 8,500 more employees than Austin — spent only $80,000 on their party in 2018, compared to Austin’s $140,000.
Even more interesting is that this was first brought to city officials’ attention after the 2018 holiday season. City leadership expressed concern and promised to look into the matter further.
Then December 2019 rolled around, and the city spent even more money than the first time: $156,000.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler acknowledged the problem, but then stated that he is “focused on the homelessness issue and mobility issues, so that particular one hasn’t risen to the top of my desk yet.”
Arguably, the answer to the issue is revealed by his response. Austin residents are struggling with congested traffic on their daily commutes and many can’t keep up with the cost of living, adding to the homelessness crisis seizing the city. Considering these government-induced problems, City Hall shouldn’t make the situation worse by spending excessive amounts of taxpayer dollars on holiday parties. The expenditures a city makes are funded by its taxpayers. And making sure the money collected from its citizens is used frugally (i.e., not squandered on DJs and photo booths) should be a priority.
There is nothing inherently wrong with recognizing city employees for their work. But as Austin businesses are closing down because of skyrocketing property taxes, private sector employees are losing their jobs altogether.
This example highlights the core issue: the city of Austin has no qualms about raising taxes to get more money and then using it wastefully.
Austin has grown exponentially in the past few years, mainly because of the economic freedom and accompanying prosperity that Texans have long enjoyed. However, Austin residents are now experiencing the inevitable clash that takes place when economic growth and a booming population run into roadblocks put up by an inefficient local government. Namely, a government that mismanages tax revenue and ineffectively addresses the issues that arise when a city experiences rapid growth.
A community survey conducted by the city showed an almost 10 percent decline in Austin residents’ satisfaction with their quality of life. The survey also demonstrated an intense lack of public faith in the city government, with an only 31 percent satisfaction rating in the city’s efforts to be transparent (down 6 percent from 2018).
And with such lavish expenditures on something that does nothing to mitigate the problems that city residents deal with on a daily basis, it should come as no surprise that they feel this way.
If city leaders want to make sure that Austin continues to flourish as it has in the recent past, then they should pay attention to what their citizens are so clearly telling them: Don’t waste our tax dollars on frivolity, and work on finding solutions that actually fix the problems plaguing the city.