Has Steve Adler’s marquee 2014 campaign pledge, to create a 20 percent general homestead exemption in Austin, lost momentum?
We’ve already checked Adler’s campaign vow once before on the PolitiFact Texas Adler-O-Meter, which tracks the status of the mayor’s campaign promises, rating it as In the Works in June 2015. We decided to update that rating after Adler and fellow Austin City Council members this summer didn’t increase the exemption in advance of writing a city budget — the first decision not to raise the exemption since the council expanded to 11 members a couple of years ago.
The homestead exemption reduces the taxable value of an owner-occupied home for the purposes of calculating city property taxes. Those city taxes make up about 20 percent of Austin homeowners’ property tax tabs.
Led by Adler, the council in 2015 voted 7-4 to approve an initial 6 percent exemption as part of a resolution that stated the council’s “intent is to get to a full 20% homestead exemption within the next four years.” The new exemption was a hike from the previous $5,000 exemption put in place in fall 2014.
Adler said as members acted in 2015: “I think that tonight the city of Austin is watching to see if we are serious about dealing with the affordability crisis in this city. I think they are watching to see if we can rise above ward politics and pitting one part of the city against another part of the city. We have an affordability crisis in this city which is affecting all parts of this city, and we need to deal with that.”
The council followed up in 2016 by bumping up the exemption to 8 percent on a 6-5 vote, with Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, who had backed the 6 percent exemption adopted the year before, voting “no.” He cited concerns that the larger tax break would leave the city with less money for policing and other needed services.
But this year, Adler and Council Member Leslie Pool, who had each voted for the increased exemptions in 2015 and 2016, said during an April council budget workshop they wouldn’t support increasing it for the 2018 budget year because the city budget was already tight. Nor was there support from new Council Members Alison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan, who last November defeated two of the council’s homestead exemption champions, Sheri Gallo and Don Zimmerman.
According to a presentation to the council at the time, it would cost the city about $1.7 million in 2017-18 for each percentage point increase in the homestead exemption.
Subsequently, and weeks before this year’s July 1 deadline to make a decision on the 2018 exemption, Council Member Ellen Troxclair all but begged her colleagues to at least discuss raising the exemption again.
Adler, in an interview after the April workshop, cited multiple factors, including uncertainty about legislative actions affecting city finances, convincing him that another increase in the exemption needed to be put off.
Those factors, Adler said then, include already-approved spending increases for items including a larger Central Library, body cameras for police officers and staff pay raises.
The council’s failure to get even halfway to the promised 20 percent exemption to date leaves scant time for success before Adler likely seeks re-election, perhaps making fresh promises, in 2018.
On the Adler-O-Meter, we’re downgrading our rating of this vow to Promise Broken.
Adler promise: “Provide a 20 percent across-the-board tax exemption for homesteads.”