SAN ANTONIO – A former rival of Mayor Ron Nirenberg says he is stepping up to rally opposition against two San Antonio sales tax proposals on the November ballot.
Greg Brockhouse announced Wednesday afternoon he would be gathering support to vote against a pair of proposals to use a 1/8 cent tax for workforce development and then transportation funding. The former District 6 City Councilman and Nirenberg’s main opponent in the 2019 mayoral race said he wants to put together a team to put out information about “the real facts when it comes to these ballot initiatives."
“If we don’t talk about the fact these are new taxes and new tax programs, if we don’t talk frankly about the empty buses that are flowing all around this city, if we don’t talk frankly about how many people actually will not complete Ron Nirenberg’s workforce training program, if we don’t get the clean facts out there, then we’re doing a disservice to the voter,” Brockhouse said.
Brockhouse does not appear ready to wage a full-on opposition campaign, saying “there’s no requirement for me to file any campaign finance activity reports as a private citizen exercising his First Amendment rights.”
The former mayoral hopeful, who now hosts a regular online Facebook video talk show called “The BrockCast,” said he is not accepting any donations. Though, he said he would “follow to the letter of the law” campaign finance rules and would “probably” end up filing a report anyways.
“This is me out there building my own group, capitalizing on my own social media reach, and like I said, contact database and stuff like that,” Brockhouse said.
He also denied that wading into the sales tax fight is a way to set up another campaign to challenge Nirenberg in 2021, though he believes his mayoral campaign resonated with voters.
“So, yeah, I’ll be looking at it again for the future. And I think there’s an opportunity to continue to make these arguments. But this is really the first big opportunity that I see -- we have to do this. It’s a public vote. People don’t have information. They don’t know what’s going on. This is about getting data and information out,” Brockhouse said.
The proposals he’s opposing, championed by Nirenberg and VIA Metropolitan Transit officials, revolve around new uses for a 1/8 cent portion sales tax. The tax currently funds the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program and the development of linear creekway parks, but it is set to expire in spring 2021.
The city wants to use the 1/8 cent sales tax through Dec. 31, 2025, to fund a workforce training and education program it estimates will help about 40,000 people get better paying jobs and help break cycles of poverty.
Then, beginning Jan. 1, 2026, VIA wants the money to go toward the Advanced Transportation District, from which it would get half of the revenue and fund improvements to its transportation system and options.
Both initiatives need voter approval, though, and will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Since the proposals would use the same portion of the sales tax at different times, there would be no change to the 8.25% sales tax rate San Antonio shoppers currently pay -- something to which Nirenberg and VIA officials have repeatedly pointed.
However, Brockhouse contends that new programs are, in fact, new taxes. Since the city council chose not to put the renewal of the existing tax onto the ballot, in favor of leaving it available for the workforce development program, the sales tax rate could drop to 8.125% if voters don’t approve the new proposals.
“So right now, we are going to have a tax decrease unless the citizens vote ... themselves to raise the tax rate back up to 8.25,” Brockhouse said.
Speaking to KSAT, Brockhouse questioned the need for a workforce development program that won’t immediately bear fruit when so many people are out of jobs now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tax-funded workforce development program would begin in fall 2021 after the current program, funded with federal and local dollars, finishes.
Brockhouse also scoffed at the idea of approving a tax for transportation funding years in advance and said he doesn’t believe VIA needs the money.
“I think you can go around this city and see empty buses everywhere. I think they need to be smarter with the dollars they have, and they need to utilize and fill the buses they have now,” Brockhouse said.
It’s a stark departure from the message he had in his 2019 mayoral campaign. As part of his “action plan," Brockhouse put on his website that he planned to bring the issue of increasing “funding to VIA to match Texas' other big cities and work with them to increase their transportation options” to the city council for a vote within his first 90 days as mayor.
Asked about his change in view, Brockhouse said “at this point time, I don’t think VIA needs any additional dollars until we know what the hell the plan is and what they’re trying to do and what the next phase of transportation looks like.”
VIA’s CEO has said if voters approve the tax, VIA would be able to increase bus service in the core service area, expand mobility options further out and begin planning for an “Advanced Rapid Transit” system.
The campaigns supporting both sales tax measures provided reactions to Brockhouse’s plans to rally opposition.
The “SA Ready to Work” campaign, which supports using the 1/8 cent sales tax for a workforce development program, sent a statement via text message that reads, in part:
“Over 150,000 San Antonians lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 and tens of thousands of our neighbors are still struggling to put food on the table. These families do not deserve opposition or obstructions, but they deserve a chance to thrive in the city they call home.”
Meanwhile, Kelton Morgan, a strategist with the “Vote Yes For Transit” campaign referred to Brockhouse’s past support of funding for VIA.
“I think now … we are voting on a plan to fully fund VIA. ... And I would hope that he would agree that that’s in-line with his goals and he would be supportive of that," Morgan said.
A separate, 1/8 cent tax to fund the city’s Pre-K 4 SA program will also be on the ballot. However, since it would be a vote to renew the tax for the same purpose, Brockhouse said he is not opposing it.