The last two candidates standing in the Austin mayoral race debated for the final time Dec. 7.
Councilman Mike Martinez and political newcomer Steve Adler discussed transportation, education, affordability and other issues during the last official meeting between the two candidates prior to the Dec. 16 runoff election.
On transportation, Martinez said Austin should solve its congestion problem by becoming "the best bus city in America" by expanding existing public transit services.
Adler argued buses would be stuck in the same traffic as other cars, so the city should consider creating more dedicated bus lanes. He also said people voted down the rail bond, which also included money for anticipated road improvements, because they failed to see how the train project would directly benefit them. He also cautioned there is no way to build or buy Austin out of the traffic problem the city faces.
Adler has touted a percentage-based homestead exemption during his campaign, a pledge he continued to stand by during the Dec. 7 debate. Under his plan the city would lose a great deal of revenue, so he suggested putting the financial burden on commercial properties.
Martinez said it would be difficult to find money to make up for the $36 million deficit that would be created under Adler's plan, but a solution could be reached during budget season by asking "tough questions" to each department seeking funding. He acknowledged that services would likely be cut or taxes would likely go up as a result and that City Council cannot keep going to voters seeking more money for affordable housing.
With Austin frequently mentioned atop many lists for its job growth and innovation, Martinez said the city should focus more on economic equality during this time of prosperity. Companies that come to Austin should not be incentivized, he said, unless they pay workers at least $11 per hour and provide health care access.
Adler echoed that sentiment, explaining that 57 percent of the jobs to recently come to Austin do not pay minimum wage, and the city should be encouraging development that results in more middle-class jobs.
The largest portion of homeowner's tax bills go toward Austin ISD funding, Martinez said. In order to make those dollars spread further, he said City Council and AISD should meet more often than once every three months—as currently mandated—so any issues can be better addressed.
Adler said there are state dollars not currently being utilized that he would like to see the school district tap into. He also said universal pre-K should be offered to all Austinites.
When asked why voters should choose them for mayor, both candidates offered very different views on why they would be the right fit. Adler said a vote for him would bring about a new direction for Austin instead of continuing down a path he believes puts the city in a worse position.
Martinez encouraged voters to support him because of the experience he would bring to a council full of mostly newcomers. He also said his personal experience struggling to make ends meet makes him a strong voice for the working middle class.