Texas IAF Calls On State Comptroller to Abandon Plan to Gut Chapter 313 Subsidy Accountability Requirements
"Lawmakers have ordered Comptroller Glenn Hegar to wrap up Texas’s biggest corporate tax break program, but he wants to give companies one last gift: an end to public accountability.
Activists, corporate relocation specialists and lawmakers are scrambling to comment on Hegar’s proposal that companies no longer report key data about their progress toward meeting the terms of their property tax abatement agreements.
Interfaith groups that fought the corporate giveaway that hurts Texas children demanded Hegar roll back his plan on Wednesday.
“What is the benefit of less accountability and less transparency?” San Antonio state Senator José Menéndez asked at a Texas Industrial Areas Foundation press conference. “The taxpayer should know how their money is going to be used and what they are getting in exchange.”"
Texas Comptroller Proposes Covering Up Corporate Welfare Program, The Houston Chronicle [pdf]
When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith.
The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.” ....an unlikely coalition...emerged from across the political spectrum — including the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, the progressive Every Texan, and [Texas IAF], which does nonpartisan political work among religious groups.
The Texas Chapter 313 defeat is the second recent win against multibillion-dollar oil and gas industry subsidies in fossil fuel states. Last fall, organizers in Louisiana beat back a ballot initiative designed to counteract dramatic reforms to the state’s industry giveaway program. In a state that leans heavily Republican, people voted down the constitutional amendment by a landslide.
Broderick Bagert, who helped organize the Louisiana effort, sees what happened in Texas as part of a turning of the tides in a region where industry has long ruled. “In a lot of cases, it’s not that these battles have been lost — they just haven’t been fought,” he said. “What you’re seeing for the first time is the battles being fought.”
....Bagert noted that Louisiana and Texas are two of a handful of states whose industries will decide what our climate future will look like. “The question of these subsidies is being tied more and more with the question of whether these changes in energy production that we need to save the planet are going to be made in time to save the planet,” he said. “It all boils down to the price of energy. Once industries have to bear the full cost of their production, including emissions and taxes and all the other things that have been subsidized, then it’s no longer advantageous, and that’s when things start happening.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
The Unlikely Demise of Texas’ Biggest Corporate Tax Break, Texas Observer [pdf]
"I have seen firsthand how this accountability system targets neighborhood schools and our students of color,” said Germaine Padberg-Ludlow, a Denver elementary teacher and member of Coloradans for the Common Good, a coalition of community, union and faith groups supporting the audit.
Padberg-Ludlow previously taught at Denver’s John Amesse Elementary School, which was closed and then reopened with new leadership over the objections of parents and teachers. At the time, Denver Public Schools had its own rating system and a more aggressive school closure process than required by state law. She said the system drives teacher turnover, forcing students to build new relationships and widening achievement gaps.
[Photo credits: Nathan W. Armes, Chalkbeat, left; Coloradans for the Common Good,right]
Colorado School Accountability Audit Moves Forward, Chalkbeat [pdf]
Mere months after Arizona citizens voted to significantly expand funding for public schools through passage of Proposition 208, state legislators crafted a new tax loophole for the wealthiest Arizonans to allow them to shield earnings that would have been taxable, including capital gains and investment income.
When Arizona Interfaith Network leader Fr. Hunter Ruffin attempted to testify about the consequences of this proposed loophole in a public committee hearing, state legislators strongly reacted, going so far as to cut short testimony and forbid mention of Prop 208 going forward.
In a Capitol Times Op-Ed, leaders from Arizona Interfaith Network and nonprofit group 'Stand for Children' detail what happened.
Lawmakers Resort to Tricks, Bullying to Undo Prop 208, Arizona Capitol Times [pdf]
About 1 million Texans don’t have home access to broadband, a state report found last summer.
The pandemic made Texas’ already gaping digital divide much more challenging, which had lawmakers pledging to close that gap. Gov. Greg Abbott named expanding broadband access one of his priority items at the beginning of session, and last week two omnibus bills gained traction when they each were unanimously voted out of their House and Senate committees.
About 15% of households in metropolitan areas don’t have access to broadband data plans, he said, and the problem can’t just be solved with infrastructure. Families also struggle with affordability and gaps in digital literacy.
It’s important to include “regular people” in the discussion process for these plans, said Josephine López Paul, the lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of congregations, schools and nonprofits. López Paul, who helps organize advocates around issues in their Dallas County communities, has noticed that many are still grappling with the same internet challenges as they were at the start of the pandemic.
“They need to do some bottom-up listening and not just assume they have a plan that’s going to work with people,” López Paul said. “They can put broadband structures in areas and if people don’t know that it’s there or that they need it … it’s just going to be a wasted effort.”
In recent hearings that drew overwhelmingly positive feedback from nonprofit advocates, school leaders and internet service providers, one lawmaker emphasized the bills aren’t a foolproof solution on their own.
[Photo Credit: Lola Gomez/DMN Staff Photographer]
Leaders from the Southside Independent School District and COPS/Metro announced their new working relationship at a Dec. 3 physically distanced press conference.
Together they plan a listening tour, including monthly gatherings where district officials can get direct input from learners, their families and other residents about local educational needs.
There also would be what COPS/Metro calls “civic academies” as part of the collaboration.
Estela Sanchez, a COPS/Metro organizer and SISD mother, said she looks forward to partnering with the district to empower other parents, getting them and neighbors more involved in school-community initiatives.
Another COPS/Metro member and SISD mom, Montserrat Amador, said the importance of education can’t be stressed enough.
“Just a year ago, I was not allowed to enter the school premises for not having an American ID. Today, I am where the decisions are made and I will work with the district’s administration and Superintendent Ramirez to improve the quality of education of my children,” Amador said.
She added, “We don’t have to conform with the minimum. Our children from the South Side deserve the same education as children in the North (Side) of San Antonio.”
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo]
Officials with PXU announced on Thursday that they have partnered with the Maricopa County Public Health Department to provide vaccines to school employees.
The county is also partnering with home health associations to get vaccines out to homebound seniors. As for public outreach, the county is getting help from the Valley Interfaith Project. Church of the Epiphany – Tempe is one of several congregations that spreads the word about COVID vaccines to everyone in earshot.
The church will start offering drive-up testing on Monday, and Ruffin hopes to host a vaccination POD at the church once the shots are available to the general public. It’s just another example of the enormous amount of public-private teamwork required to get everyone inoculated.
[Photo Credit: KPHO/KTVK Broadcasting Corporation]
Recently, Jeffco’s program has been under fire from leaders in the faith, nonprofit, service and education communities. A virtual forum was held Dec. 9, 2020, hosted by the group, Coloradans for the Common Good (formerly Colorado IAF). Pastor Reagan Humber, House for All Sinners and Saints, led the meeting. Taking the District to task for what he considered inadequate access to the program for families in need, Humber called on Interim Superintendent Kristopher Schuh to meet with representatives from the group to discuss changes. In a separate interview, he said the CCG coalition’s main concern was what they perceived to be deficiencies in Jeffco’s program in comparison to similar programs.
“Denver and Cherry Creek are open every day for kids to be able to get hot lunch,” Humber said.
While he agrees the recent expansion of hours and locations is a step in the right direction, his group is still concerned about distances between pick-up points creating long walks for kids who have no other transportation options to pick up meals.
Regarding the newly launched bus delivery routes, Humber said his group is thrilled the District has begun this pilot program, and delighted to know their efforts in highlighting the issue paid off.
He also sees issues with meals the district provides that require reheating, pointing out the need for ready to eat options for families who are homeless or living in cars.
As for the meeting between Schuh and the CCG folks, Humber said the Interim Superintendent has tentatively agreed, but no date has been set.
[Photo Credit: Glenn Wallace/Golden Transcript]
Jeffco Schools Pivot — Expand Grab and Go Food Program, Golden Transcript [pdf]
Jeffco Schools Pivot — Expand Grab and Go Food Program, Arvada Press [pdf]
Led by Coloradans for the Common Good, the organizations convened virtually last week, concerned primarily about the roadblocks that stand in the way of families being able to fully access the meals that Jeffco Public Schools has been distributing this fall. Problems with scheduling and transportation mean some kids and their family members may be going hungry.
“Our schools, for better or worse, have become a central part of our social safety net, and our social safety net is already deeply frayed in our country,” said Reagan Humber, a member of the group’s steering committee and pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. “And so kids are depending even more on that food.”
Members of Coloradans for the Common Good worry that the district doesn’t operate enough distribution sites across communities so that all families in need can pick up food nearby, including those who are limited by transportation. They’re just as concerned that the sites don’t offer the kind of flexible hours that cater to families’ schedules.
Humber would like to see Jeffco Public Schools bus food across the community, noting that drivers have agreed to transport meals to students so that they don’t have to walk miles to pick up food. He is also urging the district to ensure a school in every town it serves offers meal distribution and that every neighborhood serving a population of students who attend a Title I school has nearby access to school meals.
[Photo Credit: Brandan Robertson/Colorado Sun]
“That’s one heck of a bloated bureaucracy from the get-go,” said Sonia Rodriguez, a COPS/Metro leader who worked on Nirenberg’s Ready to Work campaign.
The city’s ideas drew fire from Rodriguez and others at COPS/Metro — a local grassroots advocacy group that actively promoted Nirenberg’s plan to use sales tax dollars over the next four years to prepare San Antonio workers for higher-paying jobs. The organization founded Project Quest, a workforce development program, more than 25 years ago.
COPS/Metro officials knew the city would have to create some apparatus to run the program, they said during an Express-News editorial board meeting Thursday — but not one as large as what the city is putting forward.
San Antonio already has organizations with experience in providing workforce development and “wraparound services” such as academic remediation, child care services and job placement, COPS/Metro leaders said. Therefore, there’s no need to build a brand new organization or look outside of the city for expertise.
“We’re saying that the city has resources available without going out to hire someone from the outside,” said Sister Jane Ann Slater, another COPS/Metro leader.
Instead, COPS/Metro officials said, the city should work with Alamo Colleges, Project Quest and existing organizations to bolster workforce development efforts. They have the skills to bring in applicants, educate and train them but need help in getting the graduates into jobs.
“This is the right time for residents and organizations to provide feedback on the administration of SA Ready to Work, and we value COPS/Metro’s input as we work toward the program’s summer 2021 implementation,” Nirenberg said.
COPS/Metro was a key player in pushing the workforce proposal.
For example, COPS/Metro targeted “low propensity” voters — typically younger, newly registered or infrequent voters — in 25 voting precincts to turn out for the measure.
'Bloated Bureaucracy': San Antonio Organizers Blast City Efforts to Enact Nirenberg's Workforce Plan, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]