I grew up in a small, central Texas county that non-locals often knew for one of three reasons: its local BBQ joint, 7,500-acre lake, or its expanse of pristine land home to an abundance of native wildlife.
But, I see my home attempting to become known for another reason – renewable energy subsidies.
Wind turbines that used to be secluded in west Texas are becoming more and more prevalent in the heart of Texas. It seems as if every time I return home, a new wind farm has moved into a neighboring county.
Recently, my husband and I were driving to my family farm. This drive is typically picture-perfect Texas. It is wildflower season, and the grass was bright green and lush following a week of rain.
Then we passed a wind farm that wasn’t there the last time we made the drive. The towering turbines felt out of place among the landscape that had been relatively untouched by man. Later that night, I found the typically ink-black night sky littered with the turbines’ flashing red dots.
While I will grumble to my family about the visual pollution of the turbines, I can also appreciate that a private business can make private dealings with private landowners. However, the buck stops with me when that company starts asking for a tax abatement. The local officials should not help these companies put a black mark on our beloved home.
The Texas Tax Code allows tax abatements to corporations through its Chapter 312 (for cities, counties, and special districts) and Chapter 313 (for school districts). These forms of corporate welfare are sold to residents as spurring economic growth and job creation. The companies will allude that they’ll take their business elsewhere if they don’t receive an abatement.
But the evidence shows that these incentives are ineffective and can even be economically harmful. Taxpayers have to foot the bill to cover the tax revenue loss from abatements across the state. The Texas Comptroller estimates these revenue losses from Chapter 313 alone are likely to exceed $1 billion in 2023. Not to mention that corporate welfare picks winners and losers and distorts the market.
Then there’s the promise of job creation. For Chapter 313, a company must make at least 10 jobs in a rural area. However, waivers to eliminate the requirement are all too common. Chapter 312 doesn’t even require a promise of job creation. In 2013, the Texas Comptroller found that taxpayers spent $341,363 for every Chapter 313 created job.
As far as the companies relocating, the Texas Observer reviewed more than 360 abatement agreements and found that many companies had settled on where to build before even applying. A University of Texas professor found that 85 to 90% of Chapter 313 projects would have continued forward without the abatement.
My home county’s residents have battled to stop abatements over the last decade. A few school districts have accepted agreements, but the county hasn’t taken the bait to date. But county commissioners are under immense pressure. A recent abatement vote narrowly failed 3 to 2.
I’m fortunate to have grown up where I did. I hope that generations to come can experience the same Texas backyard that I grew up in, but it’s going to take a fight to keep it that way. We should hold our locally- and state-elected official’s feet to the fire on corporate welfare. I don’t want any part of my tax dollars being used to enrich their bottom lines.
For now, chapter 312 was extended by the 86th Legislature until 2029. But Chapter 313 is up for renewal with this 87th Legislature. The legislature should let it expire or, at the very least, rein it in. We should require 30-day public notices that contain information on the agreements, repeal the job requirement waivers, and remove projects from eligibility whose societal costs exceed their benefits.
My hometown’s slogan is “Feels like home.” But if we allow these tax abatements to continue, I have to wonder, for how long?