People bought more stuff in Austin this year than they did in the first three months of 2010, according to sales tax figures released today by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. The comptroller reports that Austin is receiving 4.35 percent more in sales tax revenue compared to January-March 2010. However, if you compare March 2010 with March 2011, the increase was a nominal 0.05 percent.
Austin received $47,003,854 in sales tax payments so far in 2011. For the same time frame last year, the city received only $45,042,212. This year's March payments amounted to $9,773,194 compared to $9,768,310 in March 2010.
The year-to-date increase of more than 4 percent could bolster perceptions that the Austin economy is recovering from its economic slump. While this city has fared substantially better than others battered by the recession, we have by no means avoided it entirely.
Layoffs in the public sector could cause further harm to Austin's economy. More than 800 Austin ISD employees will be out of a job in September. The Texas Education Agency laid off more than 100 employees in February. Other state agencies have shed jobs as the state seeks to close a multibillion dollar budget gap. One particularly dire analysis suggested the state could lose more than half-a-million public and private sector jobs by the end of 2013.
But in the midst of the carnage in public sector employment, there are signs that more cash is being spent in Central Texas. For example, the Austin American-Statesman reported on Monday that Central Texas homebuilding activity was 37 percent higher in the first quarter of this year compared to the last quarter of 2010.
Travis County's unemployment rate still outperforms both the Texas and national average, as shown in the table below. And whether it's perception or reality, the Texas "economic miracle" is attracting the attention of lawmakers from other states, with one delegation of mostly Republican California lawmakers coming to Texas to see what they can learn from the Lonestar State.