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T H E A U S T I N C H R O N I C L E
JULY 25, 2014
a u s t
i n c h r o n
i c
l e
. c om
Driving west on I-10 in El Paso many years
ago, I saw a woman and young boy – he
couldn’t have been more than 6 – hop across
the railing about 30 feet ahead of me and
bolt across four lanes of interstate. The
mother and child were clearly terrified, run-
ning for their lives. A border patrol agent
chased them on foot across the freeway and
was closing in on them just as
I drove past. Luckily, it was
midmorning and the only vehi-
cles in this area were mine
and a massive RV with an Ohio
license plate.
Foot chases along the bor-
der aren’t unusual, but the
sickening, surreal image of an
armed agent chasing a mother
and child across a busy inter-
state has stayed with me all
these years – perhaps because
of the irony of the RV’s travel-
ing decor: The wheel cover on
the rear bore a bright yellow
smiley face and the message,
“Have a Nice Day!”
More than 30 years later,
women and children, and –
more recently in greater
numbers – unaccompanied
minors from
Central
America
are still risking
their lives and entering the
U.S. A common refrain heard
lately is that these children
aren’t seeking a better life –
they’re seeking a life, period.
And depending on your perspective, the sit-
uation of late is either a humanitarian crisis,
or the Obama administration’s failure to
secure the border.
Gov.
Rick Perry
, in an attempt to show
his presidential chops, took matters into his
own working-man’s hands this week and
deployed 1,000
National Guard
troops to
the border. (See “Governor Tough Guy Beats
His Chest,” Newsdesk.)
Maybe it’s because City Council is out of
NEWS
CIVICS 101
argues that a “watchdog” comptroller could
publicly pressure the Legislature to equal-
ize the system by tightening the definition
of comparables, by revealing sales prices
(something 46 other states somehow man-
age to do), and by leveling the legal playing
field between property owners and apprais-
ers. “We need to make the system fairer,”
he told me later, and the first step toward
doing that is to “drive towards market value
everywhere.” He also noted that the state
tax system is complex and there have to be
safeguards against “making things worse”
– including, for example, “carve-outs” to
protect small businesses that do not have
major financial and legal resources.
By contrast, Collier’s Republican oppo-
nent, Glenn Hegar, has proposed instead
replacing property taxes with an unspeci-
fied “consumption tax” – which would
have to be north of 20% to replace the rev-
enue, and would be strongly regressive
by definition.
Consequences Unintended
Collier deferred on specific approaches
for Travis County, where property tax
increases have been driven most strongly
by rising prices – a “localized problem that
requires localized solutions.” Shea and oth-
ers are also calling for market valuations of
commercial properties – which sounds
simple until one recalls that “commercial”
also includes apartment complexes, in a
town where 60% of residents are renters,
most hardly able to absorb higher prices.
There are also public rumbles for a city
homestead exemption (Commissioner Ron
Davis is lobbying City Council for a 20%
exemption), and it’s under consideration,
but that too most aids the wealthiest home-
owners – and helps renters not at all.
Shea argued Friday that since Austin
rents are already about as high as the mar-
ket can bear, commercial property owners
would not readily be able to pass higher
taxes on to their tenants. While I would
certainly like to believe in the forbearance
of landlords, a lifetime of personal experi-
ence has made me skeptical.
More worrisome is the larger concern
that “property tax reform” movements
readily become abolitionist – especially
when pandered by conservative politicians.
Shea noted the specter of Prop. 13, the 1978
California referendum that imposed hard
appraisal caps, ignored rising property val-
ues, and resulted in the undermining of the
state budget and the devastation of what
was once the best public school and higher
education system in the country.
Austin schools are already underfunded
by the state’s unconstitutional and inequi-
table recapture system, and the city’s
resources are strained by a burgeoning pop-
ulation, fully a quarter of whom are greatly
dependent upon public services. Any prop-
erty tax “reform” that rewards homeowners
– and I’m one of them – at the expense of the
public at large will only aggravate the eco-
nomic inequality that already disfigures
Austin’s social landscape. Whatever we do,
we can’t afford to make things worse.
n
Suffer the Little Children
young refugees are seeking proTecTion, buT some communiTies are afraid
THursdAy
24
RESTORE RUNDBERG COMMUNITY MEETING
Open
to the public.
7-8:30pm. The Settlement Home for
Children, 1600 Payton Gin, 512/836-2150. Free.
www.
austintexas.gov/event/restore-rundberg-community-meeting-6
.
2040 REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION PLAN SURVEY
Survey to help CAMPO prioritize future transportation
projects.
Through July 25.
www.campotexas.org
.
AQUIFER DISTRICT HABITAT CONSERVATION PLAN
PUBLIC REVIEW
Review and comment on habitat
protection plan.
Through July 25.
www.bseacd.org
.
AUDITORIUM SHORES EAST LAWN RENAMING CALL
FOR NOMINATIONS
Have a better name than Vic
Mathias Shores? Let the city know online, by phone,
or in person.
Through Sept. 1. Parks and Recreation
Department’s Annex Office, 919 W. 28th, 512/974-9458.
www.austintexas.gov/department/parks-and-recreation
.
point auStin
continued from p.11
pocket this month, but Austin-area elected
officials have been somewhat slow to
respond to the humanitarian call to help chil-
dren detained in centers along the border or
sheltered in facilities in Dallas and at the
Lackland military base.
At Tuesday’s meeting of
Travis County
Commissioners Court
, County Judge
Sam
Biscoe
had hoped to have a
discussion with
Austin
Interfaith
leaders, immigration
lawyers from the
Equal Justice
Center
, and other groups that
would serve to provide informa-
tion to the public on how and
where to donate. But the dis-
cussion understandably veered
off to a conversation about
immigration policy and the vio-
lence that’s causing children to
flee Honduras, Guatemala, and
El Salvador. “Seventy-five per-
cent of what I heard today real-
ly dealt with the core of the
problem. It is a big problem – a
whole lot bigger than we are,”
Biscoe said.
But he got some
answers, too. Members of
St. James’ Episcopal
Church
, for example, leave
Sunday to deliver donated
items (which they are still
accepting) to a McAllen faith
group working with the children.
Hooded sweatshirts are the new-
est request, said St. James’ Rev. Lisa
Saunders. “The children are extremely cold
[in the shelters]. They are not used to central
air conditioning.” (See “Austin Responds to
the Refugees,” p.16, for donation sites.)
Fair Housing Complaint
Outside Austin’s blue bubble there are
grim reminders that we’re still in Texas,
where the GOP leadership is feeding fears
about what the refugees represent to the
Lone Star State: terrorism, crime, diseases.
Several jurisdictions – Galveston and Brazoria
counties, League City, and even Marble Falls
– have passed resolutions in an attempt to
prevent migrant children from being housed
there. League City, outside of Houston, was
among the first to adopt such a measure,
which earned it a formal complaint accusing
the city of violating the
Fair Housing Act
.
Texas Appleseed and the Mexican American
Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the
challenge Tuesday with the U.S. HUD office.
The red flag contained in League City’s res-
olution is the direct order to deny federal
requests to house the migrant children,
explained
Maddie Sloan
, an attorney with
Texas Appleseed
. “It’s not just expressing a
sentiment that the city does not want these
refugees.” The measure leaves in question
whether the resolution also applies to foster
families or nonprofits which are providing
temporary shelter for the children.
That Galveston County would formally turn
its back on the children is somewhat sur-
prising, given the federal aid the area need-
ed to recover from the devastation of
Hurricanes Ike and Dolly. And that brings to
mind that the last fair housing complaint
that Texas Appleseed made was waged on
behalf of the Galveston region. The com-
plaint was filed against the state over its
proposed distribution of federal disaster
funds received after the two hurricanes. The
parties ultimately reached an agreement
that’s currently being implemented.
“Ironically, perhaps, one of the things that
came out of the complaint … was that the
Houston-Galveston region, which had been
underfunded in the initial distribution
scheme, received an additional $225 mil-
lion,” Sloan said.
Could it be that Galveston County adopted
the resolution because it’s suffering from hur-
ricane-recovery fatigue? Sloan is doubtful.
“The city of McAllen is in recovery from
Hurricane Dolly, and they’ve been extraordi-
narily proactive and compassionate, and have
really reached out to protect these children,”
she said.
n
sATurdAy
26
NETWORK OF
ASIAN AMERICAN
ORGANIZATIONS
CANDIDATE FORUM
NAAO
will host a forum for Council
candidates.
9:30am-noon.
Asian American Resource
Center, 8401 Cameron. Free.
www.naaotexas.org
.
TRAVIS COUNTY VOTER
REGISTRAR TRAINING
Become a volunteer dep-
uty registrar.
10-11:30am.
Howson Hall at First
Unitarian Universalist Church,
4700 Grover, 512/452-6168.
www.austinuu.org
.
TuEsdAy
29
STATE OF DENIAL: WHERE
MARRIAGE EQUALITY STANDS IN
TEXAS
Reporter Jo Ann Santangelo
and others discuss the uncertain future
of marriage equality in Texas and the
current difficulties Texans in same-sex
marriages face.
6-8pm. JClark Gallery,
1500 W. Sixth, 512/505-8735. Free.
www.thirdcoastactivist.org
.
TCDP: DIVERSITY OUTREACH FORUM
A presentation on the changing demo-
graphics of Austin, followed by a panel
discussion on local issues, and Q&A
with the audience.
6-8pm. George
Washington Carver Museum and Cultural
Center, 1165 Angelina, 512/974-4926.
Free.
kristian@traviscountydemocrats.org
,
www.traviscountydemocrats.org
.
THursdAy
31
AUDITORIUM SHORES
EAST LAWN RENAMING
CALL FOR NOMINATIONS
See Thursday (7/24).
O N G O I N G
PARD MAIN OFFICE CALL FOR
NAMES
90-day period for public
comment begins.
Through Sept.
29.
www.austintexas.gov/department/
parks-and-recreation
.
ZILKER PARK CLUBHOUSE
CALL FOR NAMES
90-day peri-
od for public comment begins.
Contact Victor Ovalle.
Through
Sept. 29. 512/974-6745.
gov.
rick
perry