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
CTI, with Texas IAF, Bishops & Faithful Call on Lt. Governor and Senate to Reject 'Permitless Carry' Legislation
Bishops, rabbis, clergy and faithful from across Texas convened to express vocal opposition to the passage of proposed legislation HB1927 which would allow "permitless carry" in the state of Texas.
Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz referenced the massacre in El Paso which resulted in dozens of residents dead and seriously injured. Baptist Rev. Darryl Crooms from San Antonio testified to the "unnaturalness" of adults burying children. Lutheran Rev. Jessica Cain testified to the impact of last weekend's shooting in North Austin on local worshippers. Rabbi David Lyon recalled last year's deadly shooting in Santa Fe High School.
Together -- with Lutheran Bishop Erik Gronberg, Episcopal Bishop Suffragan Kathryn Ryan, Methodist Director of Missional Outreach Andy Lewis, Dallas Catholic Bishop Gregory Kelly and several lay leaders -- all expressed concern that passage of HB1927 would increase gun violence. States that have passed similar laws, removing the required license and training needed to carry a handgun, experienced spikes in homicides and gun violence. From Central Texas Interfaith, Reverend Paul Skeith of SoCo Episcopal chaired the press conference and Jessica Cain, of Living Word Lutheran in Buda, testified to the fear that worshippers faced following the weekend shooting in Austin.
“Our faith tradition teaches us to protect life,” said Bishop Suffragan Kathryn M. Ryan of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. “You cannot protect life if people carrying deadly weapons aren’t properly trained and licensed.
"You’ll find no scripture that will support this kind of legislation,” said Pastor John Ogletree, First Metropolitan Church of Houston.
“It makes our church much less safe,” said El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz.
Texas Faith Leaders Come Out Against 'Permitless Carry', CBS Austin [pdf]
The virtual press conference was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations — a nonpartisan coalition of 10 primarily faith-based organizations across the state that represents more than 1 million people — and The Metropolitan Organization, a Houston-based civic group, to keep public attention on the aftermath of the widespread power outages that occurred earlier this year....
Texas IAF has thrown support behind Senate Bill 3, which would mandate weatherization under federal energy regulation guidelines. The bill passed on March 29 and now moves to the House. It would also impose penalties for noncompliance, increase coordination among state energy regulating bodies and create an emergency alert system.
"Our families have already suffered enough," said the Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith of St. John's Episcopal Church [and Central Texas Interfaith] in Austin. "They have paid more than their fair share of the cost for the mistakes of the energy industry and the unwillingness of the legislature to regulate the energy industry."
As legislation trudges through the legislature, the struggles continue across the state, members of The Metropolitan Organization said during the press conference. The budget strain of paying for repairs, they said, is especially felt by people living in apartments, whose landlords may not cover costs, as well as mobile home park residents and the elderly.
Pipes also burst at the home of Sorina Serrano, who is still waiting for repairs. A leader with The Metropolitan Organization Houston and member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Serrano said her home insurance coverage expired in March and other insurers have told her they won't cover the house until the repairs are made.
[Photo Credit: Isabelle Baldwin/CNS Photo]
After Texas' Winter Storm Disaster, Faith Leaders Press for Legislation to Ensure 'Never Again', Earthbeat- National Catholic Reporter
Central Texas Interfaith & Texas IAF Declare State Power Failure an 'Act of Sheer Negligence' and Demand Accountability from Elected Officials
While state officials announced later in the day that power had stabilized and forced shutoffs were no longer needed, more than 300,000 households remained without power....Texas was especially hard hit because most of its power grid is isolated from the interconnected networks serving the eastern and western parts of the U.S. That made it difficult to import energy from other states when frozen pipes shut down generating station.
The failure of Texas' electric grid led faith leaders across the state on Thursday to call out Gov. Greg Abbott for a lack of leadership and preparation. They urged him to request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and dip into the state's $10 billion "rainy-day" fund to help Texans cover expensive home repairs and energy bills.
They also called on state leaders to act on a 2012 plan to modernize and weatherize the electric grid....
"We are calling for Gov. Abbott to first take responsibility for this gross negligence and stop finger-pointing. This is a gross act of negligence that has caused harm to the whole state of Texas, and it's time to put people over profits," the Rev. John Ogletree of the First Metropolitan Church of Houston said at a virtual press conference Thursday. The event was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 10 mostly faith-based organizations statewide that represents more than 1 million people....
"The storm may have been an act of nature, but the devastation of the electrical grid shutdown is an act of sheer negligence," Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Diocese added in a statement.
Kelly and other faith leaders who spoke during the press conference and with EarthBeat described the struggles facing their state's people because of the freeze: Temperatures in homes hovering at 30 degrees. Elderly people unable to use dialysis machines. A 76-year-old woman sleeping in her car for warmth. Churches that would typically offer shelter could not because they too lacked power and water...
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, National Catholic Reporter
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
Central Texas Interfaith & Allies Call on State and Local Governments to Beat December Deadline for Coronavirus Rental Relief
Before the pandemic, Maria Ramirez (in photo above) and her husband made more than enough money to afford their two-bedroom apartment in Dallas. Now, they owe $4,000+ in back rent and late fees. When they applied for local aid, they were denied.
"For four months, millions of these funds have wafted around the corridors of City Hall while each day vulnerable families are threatened with evictions," said Jon Lee, a retired pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church and leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Texas IAF leaders across the state are working with local elected officials to spend down millions in assistance dollars that they leveraged earlier this year. Onerous online application processes and excessive documentation requirements hampered access to available assistance for the most vulnerable. Warned Rev. Michael Floyd of Central Texas Interfaith, "Families who lost employment are racking up months of unpaid rent and as eviction moratoriums end, they will be forced out of their homes."
Texas IAF leaders and allies are also calling on the Governor to draw down available funding for rental assistance for smaller cities. If not spent by the end of the year, unspent dollars will have to be returned to the US Treasury.
Says Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, of TMO, “The CDC order create[d] a welcomed pause in evictions in this area, but it is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31.”
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
TMO Call[s] on Leaders to Halt Evictions, Congress to Pass Next Stimulus Bill, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Central Texas Interfaith & Austin Apartment Association Call for $100 Billion in Emergency Rental Relief
After distributing $1.2 million in May, the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department announced Tuesday $17.75 million will be available to help renters in the second round of the Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) Program.
The city will use a lottery system to pick funding recipients, so for people like Carlota Garcia with Central Texas Interfaith, the worry is about those who won’t get picked.
“No longer are we able to borrow from friends or borrow from family, savings accounts have been pillaged, there is no cushion left for people,” she said. “This moment has the potential to become disastrous.”
She said the state and the federal government should create a plan that gets those in need help beyond the next six months.
“In order for us to be able to prevent families from falling into starvation, or worse, we really need to have the federal government step up, as well as the statewide government..."
[Photo: Footage by KXAN]
Joint Statment on Emergency Rental Relief, Central Texas Interfaith & Austin Apartment Association
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]
Exceeding their turnout goal by 50%, more than 1,500 leaders from Texas IAF organizations assembled online and in (socially distanced) watch parties to launch a Get Out The Vote drive, pledging to deliver 200,000 voters this fall to support a nonpartisan agenda for change.
Declared the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson, pastor of Abundant Life United Methodist Church and leader with TMO: "Here today are the prophets like Moses who are called to set the people free. Set them free from slave jobs, set them free from not having access to mental health for our adult and children, set them free from police brutality and set them free from inequality! The Texas IAF network is ready to take to the streets and sign up voters to our agenda of issues and March them to the polls starting October 19 for early voting through election day on November 3rd."
Bishops, clergy, lay leaders, and community leaders from 10 Texas IAF organizations ratified an agenda that includes COVID-19 recovery, workforce development, healthcare access, immigration, and police reform. Speakers included: Catholic Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller (Archdiocese of San Antonio), Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly (Diocese of Dallas), Rabbi Alan Freedman (Temple Beth Shalom in Austin), Danielle Alan of Harvard University, Paul Osterman of MIT, Luke Bretherton of Duke University, Charles Sabel of the Economic Policy Institute, and Teresa Ghilarducci and Richard McGahey of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
Similar statewide “Sign Up-Take Charge/Get Out The Vote” campaigns by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations have netted over $2 Billion in infrastructure funding for colonias along the border, tens of millions for workforce development for living wage jobs, over $50 Million for public school parent training and staff development, expansion of CHIP and Medicaid at the state level, and living wage measures in cities, counties, and school districts across the state.
Over the past three months Texas IAF organizations have focused on COVID-19 recovery, leveraging over $250,000,000 in rental/utility assistance and $100,000,000 in workforce development at the city and county levels, in addition to statewide and local moratoriums for utility cutoffs and evictions.
“We've won hundreds of millions in immediate COVID-19 economic relief, our organizations are now focusing on longer term workforce and economy recovery strategies brought about by the pandemic,” said Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith, a leader with St. Michael’s Episcopal and Central Texas Interfaith. “This includes long-term training for in-demand living wage jobs, reducing underlying health care disparities, and education investments like internet connectivity for students from low-income communities to bridge the digital divide.”
Leaders pledged to identify 5,700 leaders in house meetings and small group gatherings this summer and prepare them to each deliver 36 voters to the polls this fall.
"We believe people should be our priority over market, knowing that the two are not entirely disconnected.”
-- The Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church
In the only public testimony at today’s Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting, Texas IAF leader Rev. Miles Brandon of Central Texas Interfaith called on the PUC to create assistance programs and halt cutoffs for customers impacted by the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. At the meeting the PUC voted to create the “COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program” providing financial assistance and halting service disconnections for low-income and unemployed customers in deregulated markets such as Dallas, Houston, and Round Rock
“COVID-19 is causing uncertainty and many hardships, and during this time, Central Texas Interfaith and our partner organizations in Texas IAF don’t want Texas citizens to have their physical or financial health put in danger unnecessarily," said Rev. Brandon, who is based in Round Rock.
PUC Chair DeAnn T. Walker recognized Fr. Brandon and the work of the Texas IAF organizations in advocating for families across the state.
6 million Texans live in the areas impact by the measures enacted by PUC today including Round Rock, Dallas and Houston. Texas IAF leaders plan to work with PUC leaders to extend and potentially expand these protections and assistance programs as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
[Photo Credit: Texas Tribune]
Statement by Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, Central TX Interfaith
Statement by Bryan Lopez, Assumption Catholic Church in Houston, TMO
Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Catholic Diocese of Austin recently penned the following in advance of a statewide celebration of the 40+ year anniversary of the Texas IAF set for Saturday, April 30th:
"The Texas Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) Network Forty Years of Organizing Celebration is a significant summit to highlight the great achievements of your blessed efforts in support of families and communities. On behalf of the faithful of the Diocese of Austin, and in my own name, I congratulate you on more than forty years of service and organizing in Texas.
Austin Interfaith, through its virtuous work, proves that those living in poverty are more than figures and statistics. Austin Interfaith provides leadership development to enable citizens to collaborate and navigate effectively through the political process with governmental and community leaders around issues of common concern...."
[Photo Credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez, Ahora Si!]