Austin City Council voted to double the city's property tax homestead exemption to 20%, the maximum allowed by state law, on Thursday. City staff estimate that the median homeowner would save $141 in Fiscal Year 2021-22 under this new rate.
Homeowners pay property taxes to multiple entities, including Austin ISD, Travis County, Central Health and Austin Community College District, in addition to the city of Austin. The city's tax rate accounted for less than a quarter of the combined tax rate levied by these five entities.
Supporters say the increased homestead exemption provides necessary tax relief as home values continue to skyrocket—and after council approved approximately $50 million in pandemic-related rental relief. But opponents raised concerns about the percentage-based exemption, which they say disproportionately benefits high-value homeowners and shifts the tax burden onto commercial property owners, who could push it onto renters.
"I know this doesn't come, as with all things, some measure of concern, especially with respect to renters," Adler said. "I think the impact is negligible, but in any event we're doing focused things for renters."
Costs and benefits
Most council members supported the 20% homestead exemption, which they say will provide tangible benefits to their constituents. It is also more palatable thanks to a new state policy, which means an increased homestead exemption would no longer affect the city's total property tax revenue.
Just now: #ATXCouncil unanimously approved increasing Austin's homestead exemption to 20%! We will also be approving millions of dollars in rental assistance, and a huge investment in housing for the currently homeless. We are using all the tools we have to keep Austinites here.
— Paige Ellis, City Council District 8 (@PaigeForAustin) June 10, 2021
District 3 Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria said last Thursday that his East Austin constituents would welcome such tax relief given that home prices have risen sharply in recent years. He purchased his own home 42 years ago for $21,000; it is now valued for $668,000.
District 10 Council Member Alison Alter, whose district has the highest median appraised home value, said the measure was a corollary to recent rental assistance, eviction moratoriums and other tenant relief programs. "We have provided something around $50 million in relief for renters through the pandemic but have been unable to find ways to do the same for our homeowners," she said during a June 1 work session.
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar raised concerns that a 20% homestead exemption would only deepen inequity by offering the greatest benefit to the highest-value homeowners at the expense of commercial property taxpayers, who will be required to make up the difference. But he ultimately supported the measure. "Unfortunately too small a benefit to working class homeowners is still a benefit," he said last week.
Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison a worried that it would provide too little relief to the typical homeowner. "I think to say that this strikes me as the opposite of equitable might be an understatement," she said at the same meeting. "I don't know that $12 a month is worth it."
Community activist Julio Gonzalez Altamirano criticized the 20% homestead exemption as a "capitulation to wealth and innumeracy" in a tweet last week.
City Council is prohibited by state law from implementing a flat rate homestead exemption, even though some council members and residents would prefer it.
"This is not perfect," Adler said during the June 1 work session. "There are some people who are not getting the benefit we would want them to get or are going to get burdens we don't want them to get. But, on balance, I think this is providing really important relief to people that need that relief."
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.