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Martinez hammers home on many key issues

Thursday, January 3, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Mike Martinez sat down to talk with In Fact Daily about 2012 the morning after he received an award from the Workers Defense Project.


It was a hammer, made by workers, and given to Martinez and his Council member colleagues Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo for their efforts to spearhead an upcoming City Council vote on an $11 an hour wage floor for all employees, including construction workers, on projects that receive city economic development incentives.


The hammer led to discussion about one of Martinez’s key 2012 moments. “We still need to go out and aggressively seek job opportunities and economic development deals,” he said. “But we also need to ensure that the public that is making this investment gets their best bang for their buck.”


Martinez also spoke about the incoming 10-1 Council system, the Austin Energy rate increase, a successful Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix, the resolution of the Council’s open meetings case, affordable housing, a curb on payday lending, civil service for the city’s civilian work force and the regional emergency services picture.


Toward the end of the discussion, Martinez offered a statement that should probably serve for any elected official, but that could be best applied to the past year in Austin politics: “Yes, we may face some political heat. Yes, you may face an opponent that challenges you on this, but we have got to make some decisions.”


Like all other Council members interviewed for this series, Martinez mentioned the recent citizen-initiated, voter-approved governmental structure change that will bring 10 geographically elected Council members to the dais staring in November 2014.


Martinez called the change “huge,” and noted that there wasn’t much time until candidates would start running for those slots. Like Council Member Bill Spelman, Martinez noted that success of a 10-1 government would depend on how each of the Council members approaches citywide issues. “The growing pains that come after the election are: How does this Council best manage the global policies that effect all of Austin?” he wondered. “Do we become intransigent and do we immediately launch in to what is feared by many and that is a ward-style system?


“Or does this community elect a body that still reflects, represents and works on those overall Austin values and policies?”


Martinez next turned to Austin Energy’s rate hike this summer. Council members finally approved the first rate hike in 18 years for Austin Energy. Ratepayers from outside city limits promptly challenged the increase, and it will be rehashed in front of the Public Utility Commission of Texas sometime soon.


For Martinez, the rate hike was absolutely necessary, coming as the city-owned utility’s finances were becoming increasingly shaky. “Nobody ever likes raising fees and rates, but our utility – which is our biggest asset – was in a business model structure that was unsustainable.”


In November’s Formula 1 race, Martinez saw a big moment that turned into a big success. He says that he believes that the boon can be carried forward in to this year.


The only dark spot in the city’s slate of proposed bonds on the November ballot came when Austinites failed to ratify Proposition 15, a measure that would have added more than $70 million to the city’s affordable housing efforts. For his part, Martinez focused on the silver lining.


“We are now forced to come up with a way of funding our affordable housing programs through non-bonded sources because it’s that important to us,” he said. “If we do a bond every six years, and if the citizens do vote in favor of an affordable housing measure, then that’s just bonus – that’s just icing on the cake. We have got to figure out how we come up with $8 (million) to $10 million a year in dedicated revenue streams to go to affordable housing.”


Martinez and Spelman teamed up to pass legislation that used zoning regulations to make it tougher for payday lenders to operate their businesses. As a result, one firm – Check ‘n’ Go – closed all of its Austin locations. He saw it as a big win.


“That to me is a good thing,” he said. “Obviously, I live in East Austin and those things are on every other block, and they’re really predatory lenders. That’s just what they are.”


Martinez also pointed to the passage of a referendum that will put the city’s civilian work force under a civil service system. He cast this as an affordability issue. “When you talk about things like affordability, when you talk about things like making sure that everyone can live in Austin and be a part of Austin, having definitive employee rights absolutely ensures that,” he said.


This year also brought some contention about the agreement that governs how the city interacts with the county in terms of emergency response. Martinez said that the issue must be resolved – and that the best resolution might be through the creation of one unified entity. “(It’s) a priority moving forward,” he said. “If the Mayor and Council are not keenly aware of this issue, they need to ramp up very quickly.”


That too will no doubt be a tough slog, one that several sets of elected officials, as well as some who are not elected, will have to focus on in 2013.

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