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Property tax relief hot topic at mayoral forum

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 by Gene Davis
Austin attorney and Mayoral candidate Steve Adler. Photo by Gene Davis.

Austin attorney and Mayoral candidate Steve Adler. Photo by Gene Davis.

During the South Austin Democrats‘ mayoral candidate forum Tuesday night, candidate Steve Adler defended his position in support of a citywide 20 percent homestead tax exemption.

Fellow mayoral candidates Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole have blasted Adler’s flat 20 percent homestead tax exemption proposal as an ill-advised idea, noting that a city report said it would blow a $36 million hole in the FY 2015-16 budget. However, Adler told the approximately 45 people attending Tuesday evening’s forum that such a tax exemption would help curb the rising costs facing homeowners. The hypothetical 20 percent homestead exemption would yield an annual savings of $189 for owners of homes at the median value of $196,500.

“We have people who are living in homes with values that are going up five times faster than their income; we have to do something,” Adler said. “We can’t continue to say that our hands are tied and there is nothing we can do, because there is something we can do, and we have to begin by looking behind the conventional wisdom.”

Meanwhile, Cole and Martinez continued to hit Adler on the issue.

“It is so easy to promise people a reduction in their taxes but not say how you are absolutely going to pay for it,” Cole said.

“We all need property tax relief. Everybody knows that affordability is an issue in Austin,” Martinez added. “But to simply commit to a 20 percent homestead exemption at a cost of $36 million and not tell anyone how you are going to pay for it, or what city services you are going to cut, or how you are going to raise people’s property taxes, is irresponsible.”

In response, Adler said the city could potentially use its current $14 million budget surplus, and surpluses in future years, to help fill any shortfall created by the tax exemption.

“There are people that need this relief, especially in Austin, that in recent years has gone from being one of the most affordable cites in Texas to one of the most expensive cities in Texas,” he said. “We have to start bending the affordability curve.”

The debate over the proposed homestead tax exemption proved the most heated part of the South Austin Democrats mayoral candidate forum. The candidates agreed with each other on multiple issues, such as the need for a sobriety center and that the next mayor’s priority in his or her first 100 days in office should be working with new Council members and getting to know the 10 districts.

Tuesday’s forum also gave the candidates another opportunity to recite their stump speeches. While the stump speeches were nearly identical to the ones the candidates gave to the Austin Environmental Democrats meeting last week, Martinez on Tuesday did not attack Adler for spending $200,000 of his own money on the mayoral race and hiring Washington, D.C.-based consultants.

The  group will endorse a mayoral candidate at their October meeting.

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