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:

agoodwin@organizetexas.org

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