Mayoral candidates discuss affordability, early childhood education

Jackie Wang

Five Austin mayoral candidates met Wednesday at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar Boulevard to talk about affordability and early childhood education.

The event, hosted by United Way for Greater Austin, sold out the theater in which the debate was held, prompting the organizers to open a second theater livestreaming the debate.

During the candidates’ discussion on affordability, candidate Todd Phelps said he thinks everyone should be able to live in Central Texas and that tax initiatives should help long-term residents who need relief. 

“We need to give them relief, and lobby state government and anticipate property value raises and protect people in that zone,” Phelps said. “Another way would be to not support initiatives and bonds that would push them out of town just because they would not be able to afford tax increases, and that’s what we’re looking right now at the rail bond tax.”

Council Member Mike Martinez said he worked to help Austin become more affordable by holding down property taxes through City Council.

“We [have been] doing everything we can over the last four years to lower or hold your tax rate flat,” Martinez said. “Providing that upward mobility ensuring that the entry-level position is not the only one you stay in when you enter the workforce. I’ll continue to push for a higher living wage than $11 per hour.”

Candidate Steve Adler criticized some of the current City Council's spending decisions and said they have had a negative impact on Austin's affordability.

"What have the incumbents done to make your life more affordable?" Adler said. "The middle class needs someone that will actually champion their cause."

The candidates’ discussion also focused on providing early childhood education opportunities. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said child care is important to Austin infrastructure, citing her role as a mother and previous PTA member.

“I always say I went to City Council for rest because I have three boys,” Cole said. “I believe in child care because not only for economic development but for purely your sanity.”  

Cole said she has advocated for child care before, while working to promote equal pay for women so they can afford their own child care.

Martinez agreed with providing early educational opportunities and child care.

“We don’t create dropouts in their teenage years; we create them at the age of 4 by not providing that early childhood education,” Martinez said. “It is our responsibility as a community to understand that impact and issue that we face.”

Candidate Randall Stephens supported the idea of pre-kindergarten programs and after-school programs being supplemented by funding from tax-exempt organizations.

“I believe in a safe place after school and where a child can find a tutor, but, if the city can’t pay for that tutor, the tax-exempt organizations can,” Stevens said. “Austin is a city on the move, and by supporting our children we’re protecting the great nature and soul of the city.”

Phelps said he supports after-school programs — if there are sufficient funds.

“I think we need to make sure the money is there by not wasting money on frivolous things like the water treatment plan and bonds that don’t make sense,” Phelps said.

The November mayoral election is the first under the city’s new 10-ONE plan, which reformats City Council into 10 district representatives with one citywide, elected mayor.