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(Laura Figi/Austonia)

Many Austinites–including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and members of the local Tesla Owners Club—welcomed the news of Elon Musk's arrival in town. But not everyone feels the same way.

The enigmatic billionaire stokes criticism seemingly everywhere he goes, whether it's on Saturday Night Live or space.

Here are five reasons why some Austinites love to hate him.

1. California clique

Musk is perhaps the most extreme example of a commonly lamented trend: wealthy Californians moving to Austin for relatively affordable housing, driving up demand (and prices) for existing residents.

He followed his many business ventures to Texas, including Tesla, SpaceX and the Boring Company, which were drawn by tax breaks and other business-friendly policies.

"Musk, whose companies tend to depend on venture capital and government subsidies to survive, thrives on hype," Michael Agresta wrote in Texas Monthly last December. "In that sense, he and Austin make a perfect match."

As some Austinites lamented the move, their Californian counterparts celebrated it. "Musk has become California's Frankenstein," a Mercury News opinion columnist wrote upon news of his departure, citing concerns about worker safety and anti-union efforts at Musk companies. "Our monster has turned against us."

2. Labor pains

Local and state union officials were not happy when Tesla sought economic incentives from Travis County, which ultimately granted them, clinching the electric automaker's decision to build a new Gigafactory in Southeast Travis County.

United Auto Workers Vice President Cindy Estrada and Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy, among others, cited Tesla's "troubled history with taxpayer subsidies" in a letter sent to commissioners last summer. They cited Musk's decision to open a California Tesla factory in defiance of state health officials' COVID-19 directors and reports of workplace injuries and other safety concerns.

Local elected officials also questioned the optics of subsidizing Tesla, given its close association with the billionaire. "I'm … concerned about some of our small businesses struggling right now, and what kind of message is sent to them for government to help wealthy corporations," Travis County Attorney (and former District 2 Council Member) Delia Garza told Austonia last June.

3. Bad COVID takes

Musk has drawn outrage far beyond Austin's city limits for his pandemic stances, which include questioning the safety of COVID vaccines, telling the New York Times he wouldn't get vaccinated, threatening to sue a California county that shut down a Tesla assembly line due to the pandemic and insisting kids were immune to the virus despite evidence of the contrary.

4. Crypto backlash

The cryptocurrency community also has a bone to pick with Musk, whose tweets have driven the volatility of Dogecoin and other cryptocurrencies, leading some to accuse him of market manipulation.

Disdain for the Elon Musk Effect is so great that one group of fellow crypto connoisseurs created a new coin: STOPELON.

5. Wealth gap woes 

But perhaps Musk's greatest offense is his billionaire status. He is the second richest person in the world, according to Forbes' 2021 index. So when his companies apply for property tax subsidies or other forms of corporate welfare it rubs many the wrong way.

"We simply cannot afford to give preferential tax treatment to our wealthiest corporate citizens, or prospective wealthy corporate citizens, under a 3.5% revenue cap," then-County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said last summer, as Tesla was applying for such treatment. "This is a 'like-to-have' that we simply can't afford under this new normal."

Musk also pays a far lower "true tax rate" than most Austinites—around 3.27% compared to the lowest federal income tax rate of 10%, according to a report published by ProPublica in June.

Using "a vaste cache" of never-before-seen IRS data sent in from an anonymous source, ProPublica showed how the 25 richest Americans pay little—and sometimes none at all—in income tax relative to their massive wealth. "Taken together, it demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most," the reporters wrote.

Love him or hate him, Musk provokes a strong response—and seems poised for success regardless.


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