City Council member Mike Martinez discusses transportation, water conservation

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Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Mike Martinez, Austin City Council member and mayoral candidate, sat down with The Daily Texan to discuss his plans should he be elected. Martinez faces off against Steve Adler in the runoff for Austin mayor Dec. 16. Early voting for the runoff election begins Dec. 1. The interview is the first of two with the mayoral candidates.

The Daily Texan: What are some issues that directly impact students that you plan on working for?

Mike Martinez: For me, the things that I’ve worked on is things like our public transit agency, making sure we expand our public transportation and folks have alternatives to paying for cars and car insurance. I’ve just announced we are going to launch the conversation about how we can get to the largest bus service expansions. Prop. 1 failing does not mean we do not try to be better. Students directly benefit from public transportation, and it affects their affordability.

DT: Why do you disagree with Adler’s proposed 20 percent homestead exemption? 

MM: I’ve consistently not supported a 20 percent homestead exemption across the board because it’ll raise rent, and renters make up more than 50 percent of Austin residents. While those policies sound good to homeowners, it doesn’t benefit those who need it the most.

DT: You said you supported a flat-rate homestead exemption instead. Why is that better than a 20 percent homestead exemption? 

MM: For oversimplification, if you have a million-dollar home and you have a 20 percent exemption, your property tax bill is based off of an $800,000 home. The more value you have in your home, the percentage-based exemption benefits you the most. If you do a flat rate exemption — let’s say you do a $100,000 worth of exemption and you live in a $100,000 house. If you live in that home, your whole tax bill is wiped. We can do it on a flat rate basis for seniors and [those who are] disabled and we raised that to $71,000. You would have that taken off your property tax every year.

DT: How would the 20 percent homestead exemption affect renters? 

MM: It would cause rents to go up. To pay for the $36 million to implement the homestead exemption you’d have to go to the budget; you have to find $36 million somewhere. And the effect it’ll have outside of the city budget is the rents will go up. Adler even published on his website it will cause rents to go up $80 a year. We knew it would have a negative effect on renters.

DT: What are ways the City of Austin can help students?

MM: Transportation has a huge impact on affordability. UT students make up 17 percent of our entire ridership, which is huge. But it has dropped significantly over the last six years. If you look at West Campus and you look at the University neighborhood overlay so densification could happen — we said let’s put students nearer campus, let’s create density around and near the campus so students can ride a bike or walk. So all the density near campus has worked against CapMetro, but it’s the right thing to do. You don’t want to plan city so that students and residents are dependent on transportation, you want to make them independent of transportation.

DT: Water conservation has been tossed around a few times this election cycle. Adler has cited San Antonio’s high rates of reusing their water — 20 percent in comparison to our 6 percent. Can we do better?

MM: We have a major river running through our city that provides drinking water and water for rice farmers downstream. San Antonio doesn’t have that — a river that provides a drinking source for so many entities. So we have to keep putting water back into the river that we take out. We can certainly increase our reclaimed water and gray-water use, but we are not the authority on water in Austin. If we interrupt downstream flows, we will face the LCRA demanding we put water back into the river. It’s also about capture. When you think about [Saturday’s] rain and the amount of water that fell across Austin — if we had policy that asked buildings to have an on-site capture system, we could capture thousands of gallons for gray-water purposes, like irrigating or flushing toilets. It’s not just reusing water — it’s capturing that precious water instead of letting it flow south of Austin.

DT: Since the runoff election takes place during finals, does the possibility of decreased student turnout worry you? 

MM: It is a concern. The reason I championed moving our elections to November was so students could be involved in making decisions about their local officials. We’ve always had our elections in May and turnout has always been low because students had gone for the summer. In November, students were able to participate at a level they never had. Our goal is to station ourselves on campus every day of early vote and make sure they participate. We know we can still have a strong student turnout; we just need to remind them about early vote.