AUSTIN (KXAN) — A massive corporate tax-break program in Texas expired in 2022, but before Dec. 31, state officials said an “extraordinary number” of companies tried to apply. Now, it could be up to the state legislature to deal with the stack of pending applications.
Chapter 313 incentives allowed manufacturing and energy companies to apply for a 10-year discount on their property tax bills from Texas school districts, in exchange for adding jobs and bolstering local economies.
Over the years, critics argued certain requirements were whittled away and some companies were bringing few or low-paying jobs with little benefits. Some, including a coalition of interfaith leaders with The Metropolitan Organization, Central Texas Interfaith and Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations, have called out the program as “corporate welfare” and for leaving the rest of the Texas taxpayers to essentially “make up the difference.”
“We pay our taxes. Parents, teachers, grandparents, alumni pay taxes towards our school districts and towards the state. So, we feel that that is something that every body is responsible for,” said Reverend Minerva Camarena-Skeith of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Joe Higgs, an organizer with The Metropolitan Organization, added: “It’s been basically a blank check.”
During the 2021 legislative session, he said the coalition was glad when lawmakers decided to allow the program to expire.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, whose office had been tasked with conducting an economic impact review of these agreements and certifying them, said their workload “more than tripled in the last six months of the year,” as applications poured in before the program’s expiration at the end of 2022.
“Even though my office will certify more than 300 projects this year alone, it was apparently not enough,” Hegar said in a mid-December statement.
The statement also noted that the legislature could have allowed his office to continue reviewing and approving applications after the first of the year but that “transition authority” was not provided to his office.
The Comptroller’s statement was released after two renewable energy firms asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene on their behalf. According to an opinion released by the Court last week, the two firms had applied in mid-2022 before the deadline, but the “administrative bottleneck” at the Comptroller’s office prevented them from being approved.
The opinion read, in part, “[the Comptroller] had anticipated an influx of Chapter 313 applications before the program’s termination and substantially increased the number of employees and contractors who were trained and available to work on them. But the actual volume of applications greatly surpassed even those expectations…”
As was first reported by the Texas Tribune, the Court ultimately concluded it did not have jurisdiction over the matter, saying it was up to lawmakers to decide whether to allow the Comptroller to approve the remaining applications or revive the Chapter 313 program altogether.
Justice Evan Young wrote: “The reason that the coach turns into a pumpkin at midnight on New Year’s Eve, however, is because the legislature so willed that result long ago. If the pumpkin is again to be a coach, that too must follow from the legislature’s will.”
Earlier this year, the Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and several other lawmakers expressed support for the creation of a new incentive program to replace Chapter 313, but with more transparency and accountability.
In a statement to KXAN on Monday, Phelan said he had seen “firsthand” in his own district and across Texas “how helpful those incentives were for countless manufacturing companies.”
His statement said, in part, that “they have created economic opportunities in other parts of our state too, such as in North Texas with Texas Instruments, or in Central Texas, where Samsung has announced massive investments in a new semiconductor facility. It’s investments like these that allow our state to be competitive globally and less reliant on other nations, while also paving the way for Texas, thanks to Samsung’s investment, to become a leading producer of semiconductors.”
Phelan went on to note that the House passed a measure in 2021 that would have extended some incentives, but “the Senate opted to not act on it.” He said he and his fellow House members have spent hours studying how to enhance job creation.
“Because of my colleagues’ efforts, I am confident that our chamber will lead the charge on passing robust incentives to attract business that include true accountability and transparency,” Phelan’s statement concluded.
Industry and business associations have pushed for a replacement for chapter 313, as well. According to a recent blog post by the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, Glenn Hamer, replacing Chapter 313 “with a new, modern, and transparent economic development program” would be the group’s top priority when legislators return to the Capitol on January 10.
Hamer wrote that these incentives were necessary for Texas to “attract new and expand existing, large capital-intensive projects in Texas, including critical sectors such as advanced technology, bioscience manufacturing, semiconductor manufacturing, and energy-related projects.”
However, Bob Fleming, another leader with The Metropolitan Organization, said his coalition would continue to fight any option that originates from public school dollars. He suggested that supporters of these incentives pull money out of the general budget and explain to people “why it’s in their interest” to give at least $10 billion away.
“I don’t think they want to do that,” Fleming guessed. “We don’t oppose businesses. We don’t oppose jobs. We don’t oppose companies moving to Texas. We don’t oppose any of those things. But what we do oppose is funding them by taking money from our public school system.”
Mother Minerva added, “Is this the best use of our tax dollars, or is the best use of our tax dollars educating our children, providing quality health care, providing raises to our teachers, providing good, continuing, post-12th grade and making sure that there’s job training dollars, so that we can have the educated and the workforce that we need to attract the businesses that we want in our communities — businesses who are willing to partner with us and contribute to our community and not drain our resources.”