Austin Mayor Steve Adler sat down Thursday with Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune, to discuss the city’s growth and his term as mayor. Here are some highlights from the event:
Amazon and city growth. The question, said Adler, is not whether or not Austin will grow – it’s how the city will manage that growth. Adler said Austin is looking to make sure large businesses that may come into the city are giving something back in return.
Adler used Amazon as an example, saying he’s not certain whether or not he wants the company to one day call Austin its home. This makes Austin different, Adler said, than the other 19 cities that are on the shortlist for Amazon’s second headquarters. Before considering the possibility of luring Amazon, he said, he wants to know what Austin will get in return. Among other things, he’d want to discuss traffic and affordability issues with Amazon if it’s seriously considering moving to the city.
“If the city is going to in any way give anything or participate or co-invest with companies that come into our city, it’s because we’ve drawn a direct line to community benefits,” Adler said.
The state’s not helping on transportation and property taxes. Adler said some issues like the state’s increase in property taxes and transportation are largely out of his hands.
His biggest point of contention is the increasing percentage of property taxes that goes to the state. Over the past five years, he said, the state has increased the amount of money it takes from local tax revenue. Adler said he was pulling a “Ross Perot” and pulled out a chart to make his point.
“If the state fixed its school property tax, we wouldn’t be talking about property taxes in the city,” he said.
In addition, he said there’s not much a mayor in Texas can do to fix mobility issues, like the congestion of Interstate 35 in Austin. He said the fault lies with the Texas Legislature, which has been unwilling to address the mobility issues.
“We need the state to either help us or get out of our way and let us help ourselves,” Adler said.
Paid sick leave. Austin mandated paid sick leave in February. The rule required private businesses to provide as much as 64 hours of leave, depending on the size of the businesses. Adler chalked the ordinance up to a matter of public safety.
“It’s a good idea not to have sick people going to work,” he said.
Hours after the Austin City Council announced the ordinance, some lawmakers began vowing to kill it. State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, has been its main critic, saying the rule “declares war” on smaller businesses. But Adler said reports from cities that already have paid sick leave rules show that they are not a huge financial burden on private businesses.
“The impact on business that is being reported is nothing like what people fear it might be,” Adler said.
He hinted that other cities in Texas are in support of the ordinance and are considering something similar before the next legislative session.