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Adler to present ‘affordability agenda’

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Mayoral candidate Steve Adler promises to help Austin’s “neglected middle class” in an eight-point affordability agenda that will be released today. The Adler campaign released a copy of that agenda to the Austin Monitor on Monday. This is a brief description of the agenda. No doubt, it will be the source of much controversy in the weeks ahead.

Starting with reform of the property tax system, which includes a 20 percent homestead exemption that Adler has already outlined and opponent City Council Member Mike Martinez has attacked, Adler promises to “fight for relief on utility bills by addressing the rules that unfairly burden apartment renters” and require both Austin Energy and the Austin Water Utility to initiate long-term changes in their business models that will better accommodate affordability.

Adler also vows to improve Austin’s development and permitting process for remodeling, renovation and other projects. According to Adler’s agenda, “Delays in reviewing and approval hinder homeowners’ ability to add a room or upgrade a bathroom in their homes. Given the importance of time sensitive financing in the housing industry, permitting delays can alter the types and availability of housing by fundamentally changing the risk profile, especially for smaller projects that have smaller margins.” This, he notes, can result in higher rents and home purchase prices.

The candidate also wants to see a new metric for measuring the success of economic development. His platform says, “We should be joining with companies to jointly invest in middle-class job creation and in training for our existing residents. We should also be using incentives to encourage businesses to locate or expand where we have supporting infrastructure … Economic development incentives could encourage commercial development and commercial activities and satellite urban centers and the kinds of development in those areas that serve Austin values and community needs.

“Supporting the expansion of already existing small businesses, attracting middle-class jobs and training our local labor force to fill them must be a priority for Austin. This is particularly important in our city, where 60 percent of the people employed in the greater Austin area do not earn enough to live without experiencing economic hardship,” he says.

Adler also wants to see more workforce training for people to do what he calls “middle-skills jobs.”

“As Mayor, I will call for greater focus on workforce training programs. To this end, I will convene a coalition of local chambers of commerce, Austin Community College and other workforce empowerment organizations together with employers and local, county and state governments to advance our city’s workforce training capabilities for middle-skills jobs,” he says.

Adler also promises “greater accountability in our budget and truth in taxation. Voters should have far greater ability to understand where their tax dollars are going. We should require a policy that provides full disclosure on the current budget surplus at regular intervals, so that it is available to reduce the overall budget, or be applied to tax relief, or be assigned to another priority. … Politicians should be honest when they talk to taxpayers about ‘not raising taxes’ without mentioning what they do with the tax rates.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, of course, has made a great effort to talk about tax rates and property values, and has stood pretty much alone in an effort to lower the amount of taxes Austinites pay. It is unclear whether Adler, should he become mayor, will fare better with a new 10-member Council.

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