Larson, Wolff, warn the proposal duplicates existing services, and may be illegal and even unconstitutional
The first organized opposition has emerged to Mayor Julian Castro's proposed sales tax increase, and it promises to cause significant problems for the Mayor's efforts to push what he has described as the most significant initiative of his administration to victory in November, 1200 WOAI news reports.
State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) and northside Commissioner Kevin Wolff, have signed a letter to the mayor which says the proposal to use the proposed 1/8 cent sales tax increase is unnecessary, redundant, and potentially illegal and even unconstitutional.
Castro wants to use the funding, roughly $24 million a year raised through the sales tax increase, to build four 'Centers of Excellence' to provide Pre-K education to thousands of four year olds, as well as be used as training centers for teachers and other educators.
Larson and Wolff say they don't disagree with Castro’s' contention that Pre-K education is worthwhile, but point out that the 19 separate school districts in Bexar County already spend approximately $3 billion a year on education, including Pre-K programs which are currently under utilized.
"Availability is less the problem than is parental failure to take advantage of existing programs and to get their children to the schools and agencies offering the programs," Larson and Wolff write.
Larson and Wolff say, while Castro's heart is in the right place, the eighth center sales tax proposal may in fact be illegal.
"May we suggest San Antonians should first be asked to amend the City Charter before authorizing the city to collect taxes for a purpose outside the services the city is mandated by the charter to provide?" they ask.
They suggest that city tax money would be better used to provide services which city government is authorized to provide, like law enforcement, libraries, road repairs, or transportation infrastructure, rather than spending the money to duplicate programs already being offered by other organizations which all have their own taxing authority.
Larson and Wolff also warn that collecting an eighth cent sales tax increase to fund a program which will only be open to San Antonio residents may amount to unconstitutional taxation without representation. They point out that people who live in unincorporated Bexar County and even in portions of other counties will not be allowed to vote on the measure, even though they will be required to pay sales tax on their CPS Energy bills. They ask whether the mayor's Pre-K SA program will actually be offered well outside SA, and in all areas covered by CPS Energy. If not, the sales tax increase could lead to an expensive constitutional legal challenge which could suck up badly needed city resources and delay implementation of the Pre-K SA.
Lastly Larson and Wolff say the sales tax increase will inevitably lead to the creation of a new, and very costly, city bureaucracy.
"In a time of economic uncertainty, it is not wise to raise taxes, no matter how small the increase," they write. "To implement your plan, the city would effectively create a Department of Education, another bureaucracy, duplicating and existing system."
A majority of City Council members have already announced their support for the mayor's initiative, meaning approval on Thursday is a certainty.