Reverend Minerva Camarena Skeith of St. John's Episcopal Church explains to Jon Stewart how Central Texas Interfaith/Texas IAF organizations fight corporate incentives that negatively impact public budgets, including schools.
“What’s happening right here, right now, very powerful.” -- Jon Stewart
In a Behind the Scenes Cut, Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith describes how communities can organize.
Full episode and panel discussion streaming on Apple TV+.
At the Point Isabel ISD Board meeting, Texas LNG sought last-minute approval for tax abatement through the expiring Chapter 313 program. Leaders from Valley Interfaith, alongside allied organizations, made the case to the board.
On a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the school district voted not to go forward with the applications.
Several Port Isabel area residents voiced opposition, both to Texas LNG on environmental grounds, and to the abatements, saying Texas LNG deserves to have to pay its fair share of taxes.
Valley Interfaith and the other objectors said Texas LNG doesn’t need the abatement because the project has been planned for years and the company has already decided to build the facility here.
“Valley Interfaith congratulates the superintendent and PIISD Board members for their willingness to look at the facts and reject this application for huge tax abatements for an LNG export terminal they
have long planned to build in the Port of Brownsville area,” said Father Kevin Collins, O.M.I. pastor of S. Eugene of Mazenod Church in Brownsville and Valley Interfaith. “They don’t need to take money from Texas school children to build a profitable LNG export facility at a time when the whole world is clamoring for liquified natural gas,” Collins said.
Point Isabel School District Rejects Texas LNG Tax Abatement, The Brownsville Herald [pdf]
Last year Texas IAF organizations led the charge to end Chapter 313, a program that had given away $10 billion in windfall tax breaks for corporations. However, hundreds of Chapter 313 applications are being filed in the rush to get in before the end of the program, including some with projects slated for decades from now.
“It’s like hogs at the trough,” said Bishop John Ogletree, an official with the faith-based Texas Industrial Areas Foundation, which has opposed the arrangements.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and interest groups have begun discussing how to craft a replacement during next year’s legislative session to keep the tax breaks flowing.
The Chapter 313 deals — named for their location in the state tax code — let companies slash 10 years worth of school property tax bills they otherwise would owe on newly constructed factories and energy projects.
Over the past decade the state comptroller’s office has received an average of about 90 applications annually from companies seeking the subsidy.
Since the Legislature adjourned at the end of May 2021, by comparison, records show companies have filed requests for more than 460 new tax breaks — about 400 in the past five months alone.
Typically, companies sought Chapter 313 tax breaks for projects two to four years in the future, with the occasional oil and gas facility taking six or seven years to complete. Since last May, however, companies have applied for 120 of the subsidies for facilities not scheduled to open until at least 2028. At least 10 won’t be online for a decade or more.
Despite the program’s demise, applicants “have figured out how to extend it,” said Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith, of Central Texas Interfaith.
Their strategy seems to be, “Just in case, let’s get 10 years of requests in in one year,” added Bob Fleming, of The Metropolitan Organization, the Houston branch of the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation. “I don’t know anybody who can forecast their needs 30 years out.”
....by slow-walking the end of a program they said was giving away too much money to corporations at the expense of Texas taxpayers, legislators have now put the state on the hook for billions of additional tax breaks that Texans will be paying off well into the middle of the century.
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle]
"This takes money away from children's education and gives it to corporations, and that is a nonstarter," said Mother Minerva Camarena Skeith, [Reverend of] St. John's Episcopal Church in North Austin. "The corporation was the one that would have been their responsibility as part of our community to do their fair share of investing into our children. Right? And they have abdicated that. They just don't do that. Then we have to pick up the slack."
With Chapter 313 set to expire at the end of the year, the state's comptroller office has received a record number of applications. Since Jan. 1, 2022, school districts sent in 393 company Chapter 313 applications. In any given year before this, the office received maybe 150 applications.
"If all these things get approved, like, we could bankrupt the state," Rev. Miles Brandon worried.
"Anybody who's fiscally conservative at all should have a have a real problem with the unlimited nature of 313."
NXP Semiconductors, which is based in the Netherlands and has two fabrication plants in Austin, is seeking tax breaks from the Austin Independent School District under the state's Chapter 313 incentive program for proposed expansion. An initial presentation to the district's board Tuesday night didn't specify the amount, but previous incentives agreements from Texas school districts for similar Chapter 313 deals have been for tens of millions of dollars.
The Chapter 313 incentives program — which is named after a portion of the tax code — has been controversial. It's set to expire at the end of this year because state lawmakers declined to renew it during last year's legislative session, although deals struck before then won't be affected....
Under the Chapter 313 program, school districts are reimbursed by the state for the corporate tax breaks they agree to provide. That attribute has made Chapter 313 controversial among critics who say school districts have no reason not to grant them, and that the program siphons money from taxpayers statewide as handouts to corporations.
“There's no such thing as free money," said Doug Greco, lead organizer with Central Texas Interfaith, a group that opposes all Chapter 313 deals and has worked to help end the program.
“It's money that is being drained out of the state budget that could be going to schools," Greco said. "When you add these (deals) up, it's just a drain on the system that we can't sustain. Let's stop the gold rush here."
[Photo Credit: Mark Matson, Austin American Statesman]
Chipmaker NXP Considers Austin for $2.6 Billion Expansion, Up to 800 New Jobs, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Together Louisiana is pressing for a bill that would retain local government say in the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP), the corporate tax break that has cost local communities billions in past tax revenues.
Stephanie Riegel, a former journalist who is working for Citizen Voice, the advocacy arm of Together Louisiana, to push the bill, said there’s no evidence Louisiana is losing jobs over the changes made by [Gov.] Edwards, while locals are indisputably seeing more money flowing into their coffers. The governor’s changes allowed locals to keep 20% of tax revenue from new investments; industry gets an 80% exemption, down from 100% previously. It also gives local governments the ability to approve or reject exemption requests, where previously that authority rested wholly with the state Board of Commerce and Industry, whose members are appointed by the governor.
A Together Louisiana analysis found property tax revenue statewide increased by at least $262 million from 2016 to 2021, money that went to schools, law enforcement and other local services. The figures are preliminary and based on a review of about 90% of the exemptions over that period, meaning it’s likely a conservative estimate.
[Photo Credit:The Advocate]
Following an opposition campaign by Texas IAF organizations, Comptroller Glenn Hegar is backing away from his proposal to gut Chapter 313 reporting and accountability requirements in the program’s final year of existence. Hegar signaled the change Friday after significant pushback by Chapter 313 critics, including a press conference held by Texas IAF organizations in December, and a barrage of public comments submitted to his office against the proposal, with the largest portion coming from Texas IAF leaders.
During the 2021 Legislative Session, the Texas IAF, along with allies, stopped the reauthorization of Chapter 313, the State’s largest corporate tax subsidy program. Though the current program, which costs taxpayers $1-2 Billion per year, is set to expire in December of 2022, Comptroller Hegar had proposed in November to reduce the reporting requirements on jobs, wages, and overall costs to taxpayers.
“Comptroller Hegar has recognized the voices of voters from across the political spectrum, including our organizations, and now says the data we are concerned will continue to be available,” said Bob Fleming, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization, the IAF affiliate in Houston. “However, we remain vigilant because he says the rules will still be revised and made ‘more efficient’. Given the history of this failed and discontinued program, we need even more transparency and accountability, not less.”
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle]
Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Press Release
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]
Says Together Baton Rouge (part of the Together Louisiana network): "These reforms haven't gone far enough yet, but what has changed already on Louisiana's biggest corporate subsidy program is historic.Read more