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.”
....As legislators met in a closed session to hammer out the bill, Greco heard from a colleague. “One of my organizers said there’s 20 oil and gas lobbyist standing outside this committee room,” he recalled.
Former Gov. Rick Perry, an Energy Transfer board member, tweeted his support for reauthorization. But as last week of the session ticked by, the bill didn’t come up. “It became clear that the reputation of the program had been damaged,” Greco said.
In 19 months, Texas’s subsidy program will expire, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
“We know there’s going to be a big conversation over the interim — we are under no illusions that this is not going to be a long-term battle.”
Organizers, though, recognize that the subsidy’s defeat marks a shift: “The table has been reset.”
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
While labor rights activists support Tesla’s stated commitment to a minimum wage of $15 an hour, substantially above Austin’s $7.25, the agreement sheds no light on which workers this standard applies to. The average hourly rate for manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is $22.
“The fear is that a company like Tesla keeps its high-level creative jobs in places like the Bay Area and begins to see Austin like a low-wage, high-tech town,”
said Doug Greco, lead organizer of Central Texas Interfaith, representing a coalition of nonprofit groups in Austin.
[Photo Credit: Cyber Truck: Tesla; Map: Lasagnaforone / Getty]
Amidst Deliberation Over $14.7M in Taxpayer Dollars to Tesla, Central TX Interfaith Calls for Living Wages
[Excerpts from Community Impact & Austin Monitor]
Travis County commissioners continue to consider a plan to offer electric automaker Tesla millions of dollars in economic incentives to build a factory in eastern Travis County, but with no date yet announced for a decision on the matter. If approved, Tesla could receive nearly $14.7 million in property tax rebates across 10 years with additional rebates in the 10 years following.
At the commissioners' June 30 meeting, Travis County community members again phoned in to voice support and concern regarding the proposed incentives. Several speakers encouraged the county to leverage for greater worker wage and protection commitments.
"We are skeptical. Numerous studies have shown that local governments rarely if ever receive benefits commensurate with what incentives cost, and, despite what they say, businesses rarely if ever give incentives much weight when deciding where to locate," said [Rev.] Michael
Floyd, who spoke on behalf of Central Texas Interfaith....
Floyd...pointed out that even at the average wage cited by Tesla, a family of three would still qualify for Travis County Rental Assistance. Currently, people earning 150 to 250 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines, or $31,580 to $54,300, qualify to receive rental assistance from the county due to an expansion in eligibility requirements resulting from Covid-19.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Tesla via Community Impact]
County Development Incentive for Tesla Sees More Support, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Koreena Malone, president of the Oak Creek Tenants Association, helped save affordable housing in Oak Creek Cillage by crafting a cohesive agreement on proposed redevelopment in partnership with the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, the tenants association, Travis Heights Elementary School, the developer and Austin Interfaith. ’I strongly believe that the redevelopment of Oak Creek Village won’t just lead us to a better community but a model for the city of Austin,’ Malone said.
The Oak Creek Village complex, located at 2324 Wilson St., has 173 units that qualify as affordable housing. According to city documents, the developer is planning to keep all of the affordable housing units in the complex and build up to 313 new market-rate units…The developer also entered into an agreement … to provide on-site, affordable housing for 35 years. Said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, an Austin resident and leader of Austin Interfaith,… ‘It will lead to a more livable neighborhood and will lead to a more livable Austin.’”
As Austin Becomes More Expensive, Some Fight to Keep It Affordable, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Oak Creek Village Strikes a New Deal, Austin Chronicle
Oak Creek Village Redevelopment Approved by Austin City Council, Community Impact News
Exiled From Main Street, Austin Chronicle
Video Testimony of Leaders at City Hall, Austin City Council Recorded Session
Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated the passage of a historic living wage ordinance they had fought for over the course of five years. Institutional representatives from congregations, schools and workers associations challenged city council candidates in 2012 to craft an ordinance requiring that jobs emerging from taxpayer incentives pay at least a living wage or prevailing wage, if higher. An economic incentive team put together language, which included an exception process, that was later adopted by a Special Committee on Economic Incentives and proposed by Councilmembers Martinez, Tovo and Morrison Thursday night. Catholic Bishop Joe Vasquez intervened reading a statement of support for the ordinance at a 6pm rally, which was later read by an Austin Interfaith leader in Council chambers. After four hours of testimony and debate, the City of Austin passed, for the first time ever, a requirement that corporations receiving tapayer incentives be required to pay the City established living wage of $11 per hour or prevailling wages, whichever is higher.
Then There’s This: A ‘Decent Wage’, Austin Chronicle
In Austin, Workers Score Big, Texas Observer
Living Wages in Austin, Austin Interfaith
City councilmembers will vote Thursday on a long-debated initiative requiring that corporations that receive public subsidies pay the prevailing wage or at least $11 per hour (the City and County established living wage) -- something that "groups such as Austin Interfaith and the Austin-based Workers Defense Project have been seeking for years."
Economic incentives has been a key issue in prior elections. Austin Interfaith has been working on this issue since 2008.
City May Set $11 Wage for Tax Deals, Austin American Statesman
"The Austin City Council has adopted its budget for the next fiscal year. For the first time in more than a decade, the council lowered Austin’s tax rate, [putting] the budget for next fiscal year just under $800 million. It is money that will bolster five initiatives Reverend Sandy Jones and Austin Interfaith advocated for. Jones is especially grateful for an additional $350,000 that will restart after-school programs... They're programs that were slashed during the recession and are just now being restored. "They do listen, and they do trust us with the ideas that we bring to them," Jones said. "It showed that they care about our youth. They care about the instruction of the youth in our community."Austin City Council Adopts New Budget, Austin YNN Austin Interfaith Recognizes Council For Investing in All Priorities, Austin Interfaith
"The Launchpad Fund, which gave nonprofits $10 million starting in the 2010-11 biennium to support career training programs for low-income students, will be replaced by the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education Grant program. The ACE grant program will award about $5 million under a similar model to nonprofits for the next biennium. It will be administered by Austin Community College, which will step into the comptroller's office's current oversight role....
Said Minerva Camarena-Skeith, a representative of Austin Interfaith, the nonprofit that helped found Capital IDEA with business community members and advocates for public funding: “It still gives these job-training programs the opportunity to apply for these $5 million, and also be able to leverage more city and local funds.”
[Photo Credit: Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune]
Job Training Program Adjusts Amid Funding Cuts, Texas Tribune
Governor Signs Bill: $5 Million for Adult Career Training, Network of Texas IAF Organizations
Austin Interfaith & Worker's Defense Project Calls on City to Enforce Own Rules on Economic Incentives & Construction Wages
‘Developers need to keep their promises to taxpayers and workers, and the city must enforce its own rules,’ said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, a leader of Austin Interfaith, a multi-congregation group pushing the city to establish a standard above minimum wage on construction projects that are granted economic development deals by the city.” [Photo: Alberto Martinez, Austin American Statesman]
Labor Advocates Ask Court to Step into Marriott Dispute, Austin American Statesman
“Representatives from Austin Interfaith and the local business community founded Capital IDEA in 1998, and Steven Jackobs has been heading the organization ever since. Under his direction, the group has helped support, train and find careers for hundreds of Central Texas workers and their families. Capital IDEA – the IDEA stands for Investing in Development and Employment of Adults – works closely with unemployed or underemployed workers to identify a viable and fruitful career path. It’s a rigorous process that’s designed to ensure that workers are committed to the training and completing it….”
Capital IDEA Leads Clients to Career Path, Austin American Statesman