Imagine you live in another state and are thinking about moving to Texas.

When you start looking for homes, the state walks up and gives you the option of cutting your property taxes in half for the next 10 years, saving you thousands of dollars. The only problem? All that is required for this generous donation is your signature on a form stating that you would not buy a home in Texas without the incentive. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Who does not accept this agreement?

Well, until this year a program from Texas offered just that to some of the largest and wealthiest businesses and industries in the world. They are called Chapter 313 projects (named after the section of the tax code that authorizes them) and they cost the state millions of dollars over the life of an agreement. Chapter 313 is expected to expire at the end of the year, and in a dramatic twist, the Texas legislature has not extended the program, effectively banning new agreements at least until the next legislative session.

The Chapter 313 agreements make some sense – on paper. Local school districts are offering tax incentives to businesses that wouldn’t otherwise locate capital-intensive projects in Texas, and in return, the region is promised an economic boost in the form of new, well-paying jobs and infrastructure. Once the tax incentives expire, ownership reverts to the tax roll and, in theory, the business begins to pay its fair share.

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As I wrote, it makes sense on paper. The reality is that many companies do not keep their promises, and it costs taxpayers. A recent Houston Chronicle investigative report documented the program’s shortcomings: companies failing to meet the program’s minimum employment and salary requirements, and substantial incentives going to projects that would likely have moved to Texas. anyway. The list goes on and on, and weak oversight measures ensure that even if companies do not meet the requirements of the program, they will not lose their incentives.

There is also the exorbitant cost. The current list of 313 agreements costs nearly $ 1 billion in lost tax revenue per year and costs $ 200,000 to $ 1.1 million per permanent job created. These are tax incentives offered locally, but they have tax implications for the state: When school districts limit property taxes for 313 projects, the state has an obligation to make up that lost revenue. Meanwhile, companies are offering school districts “payments in lieu of taxes” that exist outside of school funding formulas, giving some districts a significant advantage over those that do not match Chapter 313 projects. .

Not all businesses are bad actors, and tax incentives – when done right – can be a powerful tool in developing our local economies. For example, the Chapter 313 agreements brought Toyota Manufacturing to San Antonio – and our community is better off for it. The Texas legislature should learn from these projects and do everything possible to reward good faith partnerships and material investments in our communities.

So how do you rebuild the Chapter 313 agenda so that it balances economic growth with accountability and fairness? Instead of a 10-year extension, as some have proposed, lawmakers must commit to a comprehensive interim review of Chapter 313 that consults all stakeholders and leaves no possible reform behind.

I sat on the House Ways and Means Tax Drafting Committee for 10 years, and during that time our committee has not once done a top-down review of this program. Now is the time to do it. We have the opportunity to strengthen verification and auditing procedures, encourage a more equitable distribution of projects across the state and ensure that companies prioritize local hires at living wages. In addition, we can put in place controls to ensure that companies meet their commitments, or reimburse us in the event of default. We have a rare opportunity to be thoughtful and measured, and we should not waste it.

The stakes are high, but for my money – and yours – Texas can do better than unconditional handouts to big business.

State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat, is serving his 10th term at Texas House.



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