How would these tax breaks play?

As most of us know, Gov. Rick Perry doesn’t really care what school districts, their employees and most taxpayers think. If he did, he wouldn’t so eagerly have taken an ax to school district budgets.

Now, another financial issue posing additional millions in potential losses to many districts and local taxpayers has bubbled to the surface, and once again the schools may find themselves at the mercy of a governor who is largely deaf to their budgetary concerns.

This issue has to do with whether Texas refineries qualify for a tax break that would hurt a number of local governments, mainly school districts, scattered about the state. The question has been pending for about four years before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and it has attracted renewed media attention in the AP story linked below.

Since 2007, Valero Energy 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 the AP, other refineries have applied for a similar break with potential refunds totaling $135 million, most of which would have to be paid by school districts, if the TCEQ ultimately agrees with the refineries. And, who knows how many additional refineries would join the line then.

The lost money would be bad enough for schools and local taxpayers under normal conditions, and it would be particularly disastrous in the wake of the governor’s and legislative majority’s slashing of $5.4 billion in state aid from public school budgets.

According to the story, Pasadena ISD alone would have to refund as much as $11.3 million to two refineries. That is about as much money as 200 teachers (at the average Texas salary) are paid each year. Losing that much most likely would force more teacher layoffs and other needless costcutting steps at a time when teachers, students and parents already are being squeezed.

The three TCEQ commissioners who will make the final decision are all Perry appointees, and they can be expected to do what the governor wants.

Perry, of course, loves to dole out tax breaks and other forms of corporate welfare, especially to big political contributors. Since he has been governor, Perry has received more than $140,000 from the Valero political action committee, according to the campaign finance watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice. And he has received almost $14 million from the energy and natural resources industries, many of whose members operate refineries. In return, he is a big booster of the energy and petrochemical industry. Just yesterday, he asked President Obama to delay implementing stricter antipollution standards that the industry opposes.

But the tax break issue is taking a long time to be resolved, and Perry may prefer to let it drag out a bit longer now that he is running for president. Taking millions of dollars from the public schools to pay for a big tax break for contributors would be sure to generate more unfavorable national media attention at a time when Perry, as he puts it, already is beginning to feel like a piñata.

But, then again, who knows?


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