mayoral candidate

Steve Adler will face Austin City Council member Mike Martinez in the runoff election for mayor on Dec. 16. Early voting begins Dec. 1.

Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

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

The Daily Texan: What are some student issues that concern you?

Steve Adler: There are issues with respect to safety and public safety in West Campus: infrastructure, streetlights and sidewalks. There are general affordability issues that students have to deal with — rents and utility bills. There are issues associated with wanting to stay here after graduating. There are sound ordinance issues, which plays into a larger urban planning issue that the city is dealing with. And transportation issues, as it gets more expensive to live around the University.

 

DT: Proposition 1 failed and urban rail is on hold for now. Do you think a different route would have passed at the ballot box?

SA: My personal belief is you should pick a route to sustain where people are, because people will vote for something that improves their lives.

My sense is part of what the community is saying in this discussion is they didn’t understand how what we were doing was going to impact their lives. I think people are willing to wait for an integrated mass transit system to get to them if they thought it was going to get to them. That means getting a feel for the timing and cost of it. But if it just appears as a line drawn on a piece of paper, people don’t buy that. I think that we need to improve Capital Metro and the bus system. Ridership on the buses is down today from 2006 and 2008. The system costs twice as much as it did back then.

 

DT: Your opponent, City Council member Mike Martinez, said decreased ridership numbers was partly caused by increased density around campus. How does that change your opinion on ridership numbers?

SA: I think it’s good students are living closer to campus. I think it’s a bad thing that ridership is down. I think, when you run a transit system like that and only 5 percent of the population uses it, that’s not where you want to be. Until we get out in front of the supply and demand a balance, we’re just going to be creating smaller units that cost more. We have more and more students that have to live farther and farther away because they can’t afford those premium locations. Those people should be able to have a transit system. Density downtown, good thing. Ridership down, bad thing.

 

DT: Why do you support a 20 percent homestead exemption?

SA: I support the 20 percent because, contrary to how it is perceived by some, it is the fairest thing to do for the people who are low income in our city. It would be better and more progressive if we could do a property tax that is a flat rate or capped tax. I spent my life pushing for those changes at the state level. With the legislature, it probably won’t change for the next 25 years. Eighty percent of homeowners own homes less than $400,000. A lot of those people paid $85,000 and now their property values have gone up. The people we help most are the poorer people because they’re the ones that can’t make the adjustments to pay for higher property taxes.

 

DT: With runoffs happening during the end of the semester, are you worried about student turnout?

SA: I am worried. We did well on the student boxes [in the general election], and I spent a lot of time talking to students, and I was proud of that. In just an absolute sense, I’m concerned not just about students but everyone else with the holiday season. The 16th is the first day of Hanukkah. People are going to get lost. And when people don’t vote, people feel less invested. Students need to feel invested so they’ll be more involved. The power that students have is enormous, and I would love to see students reclaim that.

A 20 percent tax exemption for Austin homeowners initially sounds great. Austin mayoral candidate Steve Adler is proposing this homestead exemption for Austin, but because most residents aren’t homeowners, the majority of the city wouldn’t benefit from this exemption. Renters make up more than 55 percent of Austin’s population, and because apartment complexes aren’t considered homesteads, many landlords wouldn’t receive this exemption, meaning that many renters wouldn’t, either. This fact alone isn’t necessarily detrimental to renters, but the city will have to make up the cost of the exemption somehow. Adler presents two options: either “find” the money in the budget or adjust the tax rate to ensure Austin’s revenue remains neutral. Adler says the current budget has a surplus that Austin could use to offset the exemption, which would cost the city $35.6 million of its $3.5 billion budget throughout the next year. But, of course, no one knows for sure whether future years will present a budget surplus or an opportunity to cut costs from other areas of the budget.

The unpredictability of depending on the budget to offset the exemption’s cost leaves us with the possibility of a property tax increase, which would cause the rent for the average two-bedroom, $1,200-per-month apartment to cost $80 more per year. Students may be looking at yet another cost-of-living increase, and because many student apartments already cost more in rent than the city’s average, the money students would indirectly lose to homeowners could be much more than $80. Adler’s attitude toward the possible rent increase appears to be that landlords would graciously absorb this cost themselves, an unlikely occurrence considering that landlords are notorious for nickel-and-diming students. Adler wrote on his website, “If the tax rate were adjusted upward to maintain revenue neutrality, it is unlikely that the resulting increased tax cost would be passed through to renters.”

The median value of an Austin house is about $200,000, so if the city’s budget absorbed the cost of the exemption, then homeowners would save an average of $189 per year, and renters wouldn’t be affected. However, if the city were to increase property taxes to offset the exemption, homeowners would save about $104 per year, and the average rent would increase by about $80 per year. While $80 a year isn’t much to some people, especially when compared to college students’ many rising expenses, it is a significant amount to others, and we’re disappointed that Adler, if elected, may try to increase renters’ costs in order to decrease costs for people who might hardly notice the difference.