Monthly Archives: October 2011

Consumers to rally against antischool tax breaks

While Gov. Rick Perry’s appointees to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality continue to weigh refineries’ requests for tax breaks that could cost public schools and other local governments millions of dollars in lost revenue, consumer advocates and education supporters plan to rally against the refineries at TCEQ headquarters in Austin next Wednesday (Nov. 2).

“This issue isn’t on the TCEQ agenda (that day), but we think it’s time to raise a stink,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen.

So far, the issue has received only a limited amount of mainly local news coverage because the TCEQ has received requests from only 16 refineries for refunds. But that number could grow significantly if the commission grants their applications.

As I have noted in a few previous blog postings, the issue has been pending before the TCEQ for about four years and was initiated by Valero Energy.

Since 2007, Valero has been seeking tax refunds for six of its refineries for the installation of pollutioncontrol equipment it believes should be tax exempt under state law. The TCEQ initially denied the request, on the recommendation of its staff, but after Valero appealed has been reconsidering its initial ruling.

Meanwhile, according to news reports, several other refineries have applied for a similar break with potential refunds from affected local governments totaling $135 million. About $63 million of that total would come from eight school districts, including Houston ISD. And, other refineries may petition the TCEQ for refunds if these are granted.

What makes the prospect of refineries being allowed to claim millions of dollars in refunds from school districts particularly odious right now, of course, is the recent slashing by Gov. Perry and the legislative majority of $5.4 billion in state aid from public school budgets.

Many teachers already have lost jobs, and thousands of classrooms around the state are overcrowded. For the eight (so far) potentially affected school districts, $63 million is the equivalent of paying more than 1,200 teachers for one year.

The eight districts and the potential loss for each are Houston ISD ($13.3 million), Pasadena ($11.3 million), Texas City ($2.4 million), Port Arthur ($14.9 million), Corpus Christi ($6.2 million), El Paso ($8.6 million), Big Spring ($1.5 million) and Dumas ($4.8 million).

The TCEQ commissioners can be expected to do whatever Perry wants. Normally, he probably would endorse the tax breaks. As I have noted in previous posts, Perry loves to dole out tax exemptions and other favors to big business, especially to big political contributors. He has received more than $140,000 from the Valero political action committee since he has been governor and almost $14 million from the energy and natural resources industries, according to the campaign finance watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice.

While he is trying to revive his struggling presidential campaign, though, Perry may prefer to avoid the additional negative publicity that likely would be generated if his appointees were to take millions of dollars from the public schools to give tax breaks to political contributors.

Maybe, but who knows?

TSTA isn’t sponsoring next week’s rally. It is being put together by the Texas Organizing Project. If you are interested in participating, here is an email contact for more information:

LeUnes is most credible education candidate in District 14

Five candidates are running in a Nov. 8 special election for a vacant state representative seat in Brazos County. All are claiming a strong commitment to public education, but four are spending most of their energy promoting (or catering to) an ideology that is endangering the future of our public schools.

Only one, Judy LeUnes, a former, 30year teacher, actually will make public schools her first priority if given the opportunity. A former president of the College Station Education Association, she is the only candidate in the Texas House District 14 race directly and repeatedly addressing the folly of slashing more than $5 billion from the public schools and vowing to fight for more state support of school kids.

LeUnes’ four opponents – three Republican businesspeople and a Libertarian – are giving lip service to the public schools. (No one runs for the Legislature without claiming to support public education.) But, in their campaign messages, they make it clear that their first allegiance is not to the schools and school kids, but to the same antipublic service mindset that prompted Gov. Perry and the legislative majority to starve public school budgets last spring.

As a result of that shortsightedness, the two main school districts in Brazos County – College Station and Bryan ISDs – are losing more than $23 million in state aid between them during this school year and 201213. That means more crowded classrooms, fewer librarians, lost teaching positions and diminished learning environments.

“Until we get some proeducation teacher candidates in there (the Legislature), this is going to continue to happen,” LeUnes, a Democrat, recently told the BryanCollege Station Eagle, and she is correct.

Libertarian candidate Joshua Baker, on his Facebook page, also criticizes the budget cuts and says Texas must invest more in education. Then, a couple of paragraphs later, he contradicts himself by railing against government spending.

Republican Bob Yancy, on his website, brags about the “fantastic public education” his children received in College Station. But he says not a word about the devastating budget cuts that threaten to undermine the educational opportunities for thousands of other kids in the same public schools and weaken the future economy of Texas. Instead, he levels a broadside against “taxation and regulation.”

Republicans John Raney and Rebecca Boenigk call for greater investment in the classroom but don’t explain how they are going to do that while imposing limits and/or cuts on taxes. Raney also commends the work of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a rightwing think tank that is working to shrink public education in favor of privatization.

The winner of the special election will succeed former state Rep. Fred Brown, who resigned after accepting employment outside the district. All the candidates are running on the same ballot without regard to party affiliation. If no candidate receives a majority on Nov. 8, a runoff between the top two votegetters will be held later.

Early voting started today (Oct. 24) and will run through Nov. 4.

TSTA strongly urges a vote – in what may very well be a low turnout election – for Judy LeUnes, a candidate who not only preaches the importance of building quality classrooms, but also will work for that goal as a legislator. Unlike her opponents, she considers a strong public education system more than a campaign plank.

Candidate Perry vs. Gov. Perry on teacher jobs

Last spring, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, gave school teachers the back of his hand as he presided over more than $5 billion in education budget cuts. Teachers were losing jobs, but budget cuts were Perry’s first priority, even as enrollment in Texas’ public schools was increasing by 80,000 or 85,000 a year.

Now, Rick Perry, the Republican presidential candidate, is claiming another viewpoint for the national media.

The Fort Worth StarTelegram story linked below is another report about how Perry’s slashandburn approach to budgetwriting is undermining his claim to be a champion “job creator.”

Among other things, it points out that public sector jobs have grown at a faster rate than private sector jobs during Perry’s nearly 11 years as governor and that the loss in August of 11,500 jobs in local government, including schools, was a major factor in raising Texas’ unemployment rate to 8.5 percent.

Most of this has been reported before, but the article also found a quote from Perry, the national candidate, explaining (believe it or not) that population growth requires more teachers in the public schools.

According to the article, the governor said on CNBC: “Well, our teachers in Texas are public employees. So we’ve had a huge influx of people into the state of Texas. So you have to have more teachers, obviously, to do that as well.”


Unfortunately, Perry and the legislative majority deliberately chose to ignore the obvious last spring, when they were imposing the deep budget cuts on Texas’ public schools.

TSTA doesn’t have a running count of how many Texas teachers have lost their jobs so far under Perry’s antieducation budget. But the wellrespected Center for Public Policy Priorities believes that as many as 49,000 school jobs, including teachers, may be lost by this time next year. Meanwhile, enrollment in Texas public schools will have grown by 170,000 kids since the governor signed the budget.

Choosing corporate welfare over schools

I am not sure what an “onshore delivery center” is, but it sounds like something that would be landlocked. And, since this particular facility is being developed by CGI Group, Inc., in Belton, in Central Texas, I guess it is appropriately named.

A bigger question, though, is whether the state of Texas should be handing over $1.8 million in taxpayer money to CGI, a gift of corporate welfare to encourage the technology company to honor Belton with its presence.

Gov. Rick Perry thinks so. He approved the expenditure from the Texas Enterprise Fund in return for CGI’s promise to create 350 news jobs and make a $7 million capital investment in the local community. Unfortunately, we don’t know yet – and neither does Perry – whether CGI will keep its promises. Many Enterprise Fund recipients haven’t.

We do know, however, that there is another enterprise in Belton, already up and running, and of even more vital importance to the local community, which could really have used that $1.8 million. That would be the Belton Independent School District, which, because of the governor and the legislative majority, saw its state funding slashed by $3.5 million this year.

This, unfortunately, is just another example of Perry’s backward approach to governing. He prefers to shell out millions of taxpayer dollars to private companies on promises of a limited number of new jobs, while starving the public schools, the key to creating a substantial number of highquality, highpaying jobs for Texas’ future.

He is compromising that future so he can make some dubious claims about job creation now. Some recipients of the enterprise funds deliver on their promises. Others don’t. And, what’s even more troubling, many have political ties to the governor. I don’t know about CGI.

One day, CGI may return part of that money to Belton ISD in the form of higher property taxes. And, it may not. One thing is certain though. Belton ISD needs that $1.8 million, or even part of it, right now.