Brockhouse Calls for Tax Cuts, But Could He Deliver?

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Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks to the business and hospitality industry at the Wyndham Riverwalk.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) speaks to the business and hospitality industry at the Wyndham Riverwalk during a debate with Mayor Ron Nirenberg in April.

Councilman Greg Brockhouse undoubtedly scored significant points in many quarters Monday when he promised to take “a meaningful cut in property taxes” to City Council within 90 days. In addition, he said he would call for several other measures, including a homestead exemption, that would reduce City revenues even more.

He may be able to win the mayor’s office with these promises, but would he actually be able to enact them? Three major factors line up against him.

First, he would definitely be beholden to the police and fire unions, despite his strenuous objections to the contrary. If he didn’t continue to be their guy at City Hall — as mayor as he has been as councilman — then there is no justice in the world.

After all, the two unions’ political action committees have spent nearly five times as much on his campaign as Brockhouse has been able to raise and spend himself. If that isn’t buying an office, what is? And as Simon Cameron, a wealthy businessman who served as Lincoln’s secretary of war, famously said: “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.”

From the beginning of the year until 10 days before the election’s first round, the District 6 councilman raised a paltry $54,252 and spent $71,922. (The difference was made up by about $19,000 left over from his 2017 City Council campaign account.)

Meanwhile, the police and fire unions spent a combined $268,000 on the election. (Police union President Mike Helle says some of the money was spent for other candidates, but since he is being coy and not telling us how much was for Brockhouse, it is reasonable to assume it was the vast majority.)

In addition, firefighters – a largely personable group – manned many polling places urging voters to vote for Brockhouse. That’s a vastly larger ground effort than Brockhouse could command.

Simply put, Brockhouse would not have a campaign if it weren’t for the police and fire unions. The question is, will he deliver for them?

There is a good chance he would not. Why? This is the second factor. He may not be able to.

San Antonio’s history includes a number of powerful and effective mayors. It also includes quite a few that have been neither. The fact is that our city charter gives the mayor only the power his or her energies and skills command. Read the charter and you’ll find that it gives the mayor almost no actual authority.

The only enumerated power for the mayor in the 122-page document – I’m not making this up – is that the mayor can call a special meeting of the council. But then so can any three council members.

Even the mayor’s authority to appoint council committees and their chairs is a matter of tradition and could be overruled by any six council members.

The first major task facing City Council after the June 8 election is to come up with a budget. That will be very much on council members’ minds as Brockhouse works to give the firefighters’ union what it wants. And what the firefighters want, clearly, is more than the very generous contract the police union obtained two and a half years ago. Otherwise, the firefighters would have accepted a parallel contract as they have since the police union became a powerhouse back in the 1980s.

But the police contract is projected to push the public safety portion of the general fund budget over the 66 percent cap council had voted to seek. Former City Manager Sheryl Sculley sought to recover the balance with a “first in, best contract” policy. The firefighters would have to take less. But Sculley is gone.

So if the firefighters’ union gets more, that means the rest of the budget would get less. Yet the clear majority of the council has supported Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s progressive agenda that includes urban mobility, housing and environmental initiatives – things Brockhouse opposes. The cost details for these initiatives is yet to be worked out, but if the union gets its way, there is no room for substantial investment.

Furthermore, City Council will have to decide what to cut in the current budget – parks, libraries, street repair – to pay for the fire and police contracts. That’s even before funding Brockhouse’s revenue cuts.

Will council members have the confidence to stick to their guns if Brockhouse wins? They should. Not one of the seven members who sought re-election needed a runoff. On average, the incumbents won 61 percent of the vote.

After the June 8 runoffs, at least six and possibly as many as eight council members will be counted as progressives who have little interest in Brockhouse’s tax-cutting, back-to-basics approach. That’s a second factor that could impede his plans.

There is one more important factor weighing against Brockhouse’s proposed tax cuts. It appears the Legislature may be about to pass a law requiring that any increase of city revenues surpassing 3.5 percent – even if the tax rate itself is stationary or lowered – will have to go to a public vote.

That law, which would go into effect Jan. 1, is scary to public officials, especially in the face of escalating public safety costs. There will be considerable pressure not to lower the baseline for city revenues with the Oct. 1 budget, just before the revenue cap goes into effect.  

So if Brockhouse wins, the question will be whether an opposition coalition can form that will frustrate him by continuing a progressive agenda on the belief that not to address the challenges of growth could be at least as expensive as addressing them.

My bet is that Brockhouse – at least based on this election alone – could slow the boat down, but not turn it around.

26 thoughts on “Brockhouse Calls for Tax Cuts, But Could He Deliver?

  1. He doesn’t have to deliver on anything. He just needs to promise whatever he thinks it will take to get folks to vote for him. Then if he is elected, he can blame everything on the council for not supporting tax cuts or a golden fire contract etc. Not his fault.

    • Yes…That’s exactly what he’d do if elected…. Hopefully voters realize that Brockhosue would lie about ANYTHING to get elected and then once he’s in, lie to stay there.

    • Well the “promise” implies he believes he can get the votes necessary to make things happen. Otherwise, our electorate is not very educated to think that a promise amounts to anything other than empty words.

  2. “He doesn’t have to deliver on anything. He just needs to promise whatever he thinks it will take to get folks to vote for him. Then if he is elected, he can blame everything on the council for not supporting tax cuts or a golden fire contract etc. Not his fault.”

    LOL…taken from the democratic play book.

  3. You might remember Mr B wants to change charter to make a stronger mayor. Until then he needs 5 votes to pass anything other than gas. Mr Casey is correct. First things first, fire and police. How can there be any money left for tax cuts?

  4. Other than the Fire and Police unions – and right wing radio – is anybody actually buying this new “Brockhouse Fantasy?” (How exactly is he going to pay for these hefty new Police and Fire contracts? Sounds like the old Election Day “Voodoo Economics” malarkey.)

  5. Let’s say the City and firefighters’ union agree on a labor contract in the next few months. How much savings are we really talking about? From the City’s perspective, even if the firefighters take less than what they desire, the police and firefighters’ contracts added together will still take up 66% (or possibly more) of the City’s general fund budget.

    Wouldn’t the City have to eliminate our public safety workers’ health benefits and pensions altogether to realize any meaningful cost reductions?

    • No, go to the city’s website and listen to all ten hours of recordings from mediation and bargaining. The FF union will save the city millions of dollars by being in charge of their own health care.

      • The same fire union that told us our bond ration wouldn’t be downgraded if we voted for their charter changes? That one?

      • Let’s not forget that unions who that have been given the opportunity to manage their own healthcare have bankrupted their healthcare plan. The city has always managed the healthcare for the 13,000 police, firefighters, and civilians. And, they have performed that duty well as evident from the AAA bond ratings. What gives you the confidence that this union would have more expertise to manage healthcare when they have no in-house expertise or infrastructure to do it? Do you have confidence with the fire union’s financial wherewithal to handle such a huge lift? Do you have any reason to believe that they have more experience or competence than other unions that have tried this experiment and failed? City healthcare is one of most generous in Texas. Why try to fix something that isn’t broken?

  6. So Brockhouse is financially supported by safety unions and Nirenberg is supported by city insiders-and people who profit from them. You can decide which choice to make.

    Brockhouse isn’t the only one you should accuse of using voodoo economics. As stated in the article “the cost details for these initiatives have yet to be worked out.” That translates to many, esp with this council, as more taxes. Who presents these “initiatives” without cost analysis? No successful business could operate this way. What services will be left unfunded for these as yet to be cost analyzed initiatives? Will we have another set of acronym laden city non profits to manage them-or mismanage them-at huge costs in waste? These initiatives will not be funded without new taxes or loss of services.

    Seems to me the choice may be vote for Brockhouse-even if it’s not likely he can reduce taxes (without council support) OR vote for Nirenberg when he will have no choice but to raise taxes (w the blessing of city council) or give more abatements which will eventually be made up by…more taxes!

    • Raise taxes? Perhaps you haven’t noticed but the city council didn’t raise your tax rate in the last two years…nor the two years before that…nor the twenty years before that. This idea that they will suddenly raise the is backed by nothing other than supposition backed by no facts.

      If your tax bill is going up it’s because the valuations are outrageous and because the state refuses to fund school districts.

      Your city council might make a lot of mistakes but one of them hasn’t been to raise your taxes.

      • Adding on to sales tax is a raise in taxes…property taxes are not the only source of tax revenue.

        The city doesn’t have to raise taxes bc the BCAD does it for them…and they can’t tell you why your property taxes are raised even when you show them CMA and their own facts!

        Agree…state has been beyond abysmal in funding schools and are at fault…but the city has raised taxes and BCAD needs to be able to show you how they arrive at valuations. The city also needs to stop giving abatements and tax business and commercial property more equitably.

        • “San Antonio’s current sales tax rate is 8.250% and is distributed as follows: 1.000% City of San Antonio; 0.125% dedicated to the City of San Antonio Edwards Aquifer Protection and Parks Development and Expansion Venue Projects; 0.125% dedicated to the City of San Antonio Pre-K 4 SA initiative; 0.250% San Antonio ATD (Advanced Transportation District); 0.500% San Antonio MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority); and 6.250% State of Texas.”

          Taken from: https://www.sanantonio.gov/Finance/bfi/Tax-Rate-Summary

          Now I’m not a math whizz or anything, Anne, but it sure seems to me like 6.25 is more than 1.

          • My mistake…should have said San Antonio tax rate…that is inclusive of sales and all the add-ins—which will increase under Nirenberg.

            (I, like most people probably look at it as sales tax since it is charged when a sale is made-and reflected on your bill/receipt. Good to remember all that is included in that rate!)

  7. This is interesting: where was all of this scrutiny when Pelaez was suddenly for property tax relief a couple of months ago? Ah, but Pelaez, while hated by many in his district, is a favorite of the Rivard Report… Say no more.

  8. “After the June 8 runoffs, at least six and possibly as many as eight council members will be counted as progressives…”

    Nah. None of our council members are as courageous and thoughtful as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Even Treviño and Sandoval are firmly center, as beholden to developers and other special interests as they are. And who would the new ones be? Jada who works closely with Mitch Meyer? Do not try to re-define progressivism for your personal needs.

  9. “After the June 8 runoffs, at least six and possibly as many as eight council members will be counted as progressive who have little interest in Brockhouse’s tax-cutting, back-to-basics approach.”

    Voting against Chick-Fil-A makes Treviño decent-minded, but not a progressive. He would need to be far more economically fair to his constituents to even approach being a progressive. Sandoval is the only who when gets close to being a progressive, with her CAAP proposal. So who are the other six ‘progressives’? Don’t talk about movements you know nothing about.

  10. The chief of the Bexar Appraisal District should be an elected official. They affect our lives too much to not let the voter have a say.

  11. My question is this – what has our current mayor done ? Not much !! Time for a change – Brockhouse has shown he can stir up the pot and get people talking – I think that’s a good thing !! City council needs to listen to the people – all of San Antonio not just special groups that seem to just be yelling for what is convenient for them and have only their needs addressed – I think that’s why this election was so close !! And a first timer was almost able to oust a do nothing mayor !

    • If you think Nirenberg is a do nothing mayor, you aren’t paying attention. I think he is balancing many competing interests. It is significant that everyone across the political spectrum seems to be a little frustrated – an indication to me that he is doing his job. He’s a policy guy. I am more than ready to give him another term to work out some significant issues. Housing, climate, infrastructure, population growth, preservation, tourism, better paying jobs and education. Let’s give Ron another go. At least he doesn’t make empty promises that he cannot possibly keep.

      • How about not saying a word about the city’s widening socioeconomic divide, consistent with its No. 1 rating in the U.S. in economic segregation? How about, in this context, declaring having “the best city manager in the country”, with neither saying or doing anything about it? How about telling citizens that they live in a city “they can be proud of”? How about being a “policy guy” yet the city has no adopted public policies, only “policy direction”, as confirmed by staff at City Hall? These are legitimate issues/concerns.

  12. The city is, in fact, responsible for many of the problems you list through past and present policies. They need to be reigned in not given carte blanche. Basic city services in all parts of the city are not even being met.

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