Instead of sharing his views in a polite, constructive manner, former Mayor Richard Greene recently wrote a screed attacking me in the paper so he could defend the practice of local corporate welfare, or as he calls it "economic development", "tax incentives" or any number of flowery terms used to disguise blatant crony capitalism. For decades, local busy-bodies like Mayor Greene have been giving away your money to play "corporate deal maker", and they're mad as hell that I'm fighting for the taxpayer in Austin.
Let's talk straight: the sacred cow I dare oppose is the corporate welfare scheme known as "313 abatements", which have only been around since 2001 and allow select businesses to forgo a large portion of their property tax bill for ten years. I say "select" because local officials get to choose who pays their full tax bill and who doesn't. Do you remember the dark times before 2001 when local central-planners like Mayor Greene didn't have this tremendous power? Me either.
Do they ever "select" small- or medium-sized businesses? You know, the folks that employ the most Texans and produce the most economic activity in our community? Of course not. They chase the big boys of corporate America to put feathers in their caps at local ribbon cuttings. Facebook is sexier than your start-up or Mom and Pop, I'm afraid.
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Not surprising, a recent report found that 94% of companies receiving 313 abatements already have ample reason to do business here, proving this scam serves only to pit local communities against one another in a race to give the most away. A UT professor did a study showing 85% don't need the incentives at all. Corporations play this game perfectly. Even with billions in corporate cash reserve, Mayor Greene insists we had to give Facebook hundreds of millions in goodies to "create jobs". I thought people created jobs, not the government.
Let's talk school finance. The "Mayor Greenes" talk ad nauseam about the supposed return we get from making deals with your money. And yet, many of these same people accuse the state of under-funding education. As of 2015 these 313 abatements had removed nearly $20 billion of property from school tax rolls, which amounted to a $7 billion loss in local school tax revenue that the state had to cover. In just fifteen years, they poked a $7 billion hole in our school tax base and then complain there isn't enough money for schools? Frankly, it's duplicitous.
Don't be fooled: lowering a corporation's property tax bill shifts the tax burden onto other local taxpayers. How do we pay for increased traffic on our roads, more students in our classrooms, and greater demand for fire and police services? From the taxes of everyone not benefiting from the sweetheart deal. So, please get back to work y'all; Facebook is depending on you.
I went to Austin to fight for taxpayers--not to prop up corporate welfare that lets local officials play venture-capitalist. I fight to lower property taxes for all business owners, not just the big guys. The local economy is not "at risk" if we stop giving wealthy corporations special tax deals. It's the small/medium businesses that make our community strong. Not a single Facebook data center.
Ending 313 abatements would remove power from a handful of local officials who insist they know best and that truly frightens them. You see, this is really about power. And I don't work for powerful special interests. I work for the taxpayer.
I'm proud to have earned a 100% rating with the top small/medium business association in Texas. One of my Democrat opponents recently said government "should pick the winners" when asked about corporate welfare. Mayor, I believe that's closer to your mindset. Let's see how that works out. See you in November.
Sen. Konni Burton, Texas Senate District 10