By: Will DuPree
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin could become the last Texas city to enact a guaranteed income program if a bill filed Monday becomes law.
Texas Rep.-elect Ellen Troxclair, a Republican who will represent House District 19, filed three pieces of legislation so far, including House Bill 553. That proposal reads, “Notwithstanding any other law, a political subdivision may not adopt or enforce an ordinance, order, or other measure providing for a universal basic income.”
This proposal calls for essentially banning others from taking up something similar to what Austin City Council did in May with $1.1 million in taxpayer dollars. The city agreed to provide $1,000 per month to 85 families or individuals for a year, and the first payments went out already. Troxclair said she does not believe it’s the best way to spend taxpayer money.
“Programs like this, which give participants up to $12,000 a year without any kind of participation in the labor market, that money comes from taxpayers,” she said.
“That money comes from somebody else who is already struggling to make their ends meet and to pay their rent.”
The proposed legislation follows a historical pattern of actions taken by the city leading to backlash at the Texas Capitol, which outgoing Council Member Kathie Tovo has seen firsthand.
“I understand we’ve been in this kind of position before with the state,” Tovo said Tuesday, “but I think this particular conversation is really unfortunate because it has the potential to remove resources, really critical resources, from Texas families who need them.”
During the last legislative session in 2021, state lawmakers went after Austin by enacting bills about funding for law enforcement and homelessness.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a statewide homeless camping ban, which prevents people experiencing homelessness from camping anywhere in public. This came about because Austin city leaders voted in 2019 to repeal previous city bans on camping, sitting and lying in public spaces. A voter referendum pushed by the political group Save Austin Now eventually reinstated those rules.
A legislative mandate also led Austin City Council to approve a record budget this year for the Austin Police Department. A 2021 state law sought to penalize Texas cities if they’re found to have reduced their law enforcement budget. This came in response to the city reallocating $150 million from Austin police to other departments following the racial injustice protests downtown in 2020.
Looking back even further, state courts reversed the plastic bag ban passed in 2013.
Sherri Greenberg, a professor at UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, said this trend is not solely unique to Texas.
“We have seen this nationwide with this increasing situation where you see state legislators coming in and superseding local ordinances,” Greenberg said.
Only two days into the pre-filing period for the new legislative session, almost a thousand bills are already entered into consideration. With no indications about what future proposals will bring, Tovo shared some advice to the Austin council members who succeed her on the dais.
“Stand strong and do what you believe is right for Austin residents,” she said. “If and when there is backlash at the state level, be prepared to go down to the legislature and explain the position and, if need be, fight for it because we were elected to represent Austinites and to do what’s best for Austin families.”
The new legislative session begins on Jan. 10.