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Several Council Members Say That, You Know, a Teensy-Tiny Tax Hike Ain't a Bad Idea

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Speaking of the council and the budget and fees versus taxes ...

As we mentioned yesterday, Tennell Atkins's budget amendment called for a 1-cent property tax increase -- which I didn't think would get terribly far, given council members, the mayor and the city manager's oft-repeated vows not to raise taxes despite the $190 million shortfall. But after Atkins made his presentation -- which, summed up, was, "It'll cost you $8 a year on a $100,000 house ... and I paid $9 to go to the movies" -- several council members stepped up to support his motion, made in large part to save funding for the mayor's Southern Dallas Task Force.

Carolyn Davis said, and Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan confirmed, that at all of Davis's town hall meetings, all but three who attended expressed their support for a tax hike.

"We spend a lot of time on trying to cut a piece of cake, and you only got one small slice left," Davis said. "I'm telling you, y'all, that cake is down to the icing -- a crumb with a piece of icing." She asked Mary Suhm why, when preparing the budget, she didn't at least propose a tax hike. (The city hasn't had a tax increase in two years, the city manager said later.)

"There's a lot of ways to develop a budget," Suhm said. "A tax increase is one of then. Reduction of service and other revenue is another way. ... We've made cuts in order to manage this budget. These are tough economic times, people are having tough times at home and at the city, and over time what we would hope would happen is our investments in public safety and economic development would increase the tax base and revenue."

Davis then said that, "People voted for the convention center hotel, they voted for the the American Airlines Center, they voted for the Trinity River and for practically everything we've asked them to vote for. They did what we asked of them." Which is why she's all for a tax-rate increase of 1 cent: "I wish we could look at restoring some of these programs [cut from the budget]. They supported us."

Vonciel Jones Hill -- who said she can smell a tax even when it's dolled up as a fee -- warned that dire consequences are in store if the city doesn't raise taxes now.

"We can slice all we want to this year, but the time is coming where we're going to have to suck it up and raise the tax rate," she said. "There is nowhere else to go. If we put it off this year, it means next year or the year after, the tax rate increase will have to be more ... at least 5 percent. ... We need to raise the tax rate now and get it over with and restore our services. I disagree with anyone who says a fee is not a tax, and I am a word merchant. That's how I make my living. That's what lawyers do. We may call it a fee, but it's money that comes out of somebody's pocket, and when you take money out of someone's pocket, you can style it anything you want to style it, that's a tax."

Next up was Steve Salazar, who noted that, yup, this discussion was likely an exercise in futility, but one worth having.

"We're going to do less for our voters, were going to do less for our children, we're going to do less for education, we're going to do less, and doing less is not enough," he said. "We have it in our ability to fund these things with 1 cent where other cities are doing 3, 4 cents [in increases]. To do a cent today means we won't have to do two or three tomorrow. What are we gaining by cutting? We're taking a step back form where we want to be tomorrow. ... It's not about having the votes. It's about having the will. It's the will to make the difference to make that happen. And, unfortunately, I don't believe we have the will today, and tomorrow we're gong to pay for it."

Atkins's motion got five votes.

Angela Hunt's up now, talking about the increase in debt service based on proposed bond programs. A year from now, she says, the city will have to cut even more if we spend $355 million on capital improvements: "That will mean we'll have to spend $24 million additional dollars next year on our credit card bill. That money doesn't come out of thin air." She asked Suhm where that money will come from.

"It depends on what revenues are and on expenses I can't give you specific line items for," she said.

It's clear Hunt and Ann Margolin's motion to reduce capital budget from $355 million to $140 million will not get very far. Why? Because the mayor's against it: "Bad business sense is what it comes down to. The question is: Do you want to trade off tomorrow for today?" To pass their amendment, he said, is "closing our eyes to where the city will be in the future."

Update at 3:14 p.m.: Yup, only Hunt and Margolin were for their amendment.

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