When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith. The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.”
....As legislators met in a closed session to hammer out the bill, Greco heard from a colleague. “One of my organizers said there’s 20 oil and gas lobbyist standing outside this committee room,” he recalled.
Former Gov. Rick Perry, an Energy Transfer board member, tweeted his support for reauthorization. But as last week of the session ticked by, the bill didn’t come up. “It became clear that the reputation of the program had been damaged,” Greco said.
In 19 months, Texas’s subsidy program will expire, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
“We know there’s going to be a big conversation over the interim — we are under no illusions that this is not going to be a long-term battle.”
Organizers, though, recognize that the subsidy’s defeat marks a shift: “The table has been reset.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
How Skeptical Texas Lawmakers Put an End to a Controversial Tax Incentive Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
Voters will be asked to approve a 1/8-cent sales tax to fund job training and college degrees for San Antonians who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money also would help participants pay rent and other living expenses while they complete those programs.
The sales tax revenue would be dedicated to those purposes for four years....
“Today, San Antonians need this investment more than ever,” Virginia Mata, a leader of the grassroots coalition COPS/Metro told council members Thursday. “It is not only the right thing to do but also the right investment. The seeds that you plant today will have a lasting effect and will help San Antonians rise from the shadows to the light.”
[Photo Credit: Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News]
'We Need Action Now': Sales Tax Proposal for San Antonio Economic Recovery Now in Voters' Hands, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro Advances Tenant Rights in San Antonio. Landlords Now Required to Inform Tenants of Rights
City council unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday requiring landlords and property managers to provide a document called a “notice of tenant’s rights” to tenants they want to evict, a measure they hope will curb evictions locally during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The notice informs renters of their rights within the eviction process, provides them a list of resources, including San Antonio’s COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program, and urges renters and landlords to resolve the dispute through a payment plan before both sides have to appear in court. Landlords who do not comply face a fine up to $500, and can be given multiple citations....
The ordinance has been crafted by housing advocates, including COPS/Metro, and landlord groups, including the San Antonio Apartment Association.
San Antonio Landlords Now Obligated to Inform Tenants of Rights, San Antonio Current [pdf]
While it likely won’t address every need that arises from the economic downturn, [a new City program that provides $25 million in financial relief for San Antonio residents] has been touted as an example of how local government can partly fill a gap for families who don’t qualify for federal aid.
“No strings attached, no citizenship necessary, no documents, no paper necessary. Just residents in San Antonio and economic need,”
said Father Bill Kraus of Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church.
Kraus worked alongside other COPS/Metro leaders to lobby City Council to increase the fund from $15.8 million to $25 million before it gained final approval. And the organization’s leaders are still working throughout the city to identify potential solutions for immigrant families.
Angelica Reyes, a COPS/Metro leader, parent in Harlandale Independent School District, and immigrant, discovered her own challenges as her school-age children switched to at-home learning. Reyes learned that she didn’t have the basic computer skills needed to help her kids adjust to class on a computer. Reyes and other parents and decided to approach the district for help.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, Rivard Report]
With No Federal Aid, Immigrant Families, Students Lean on Local Support, Rivard Report [pdf]f]
Commentary: A GI Bill for San Antonio, San Antonio Express-News ]
$25 Million Housing Assistance Fund Offers Relief to San Antonians Affected by COVID-19, Texas Public Radio [pd
With a 10-1 vote, City Council increased its housing assistance program Thursday by nearly $25 million to help as many as 20,000 families pay rent, utilities, and internet bills and provide cash to purchase groceries, gas, and medicine as they cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
City staff originally proposed a $15.8 million COVID-19 Emergency Housing Program but, at the direction of Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and community advocates, the City was able to identify an additional $9.2 million from various city-related accounts.
Linda Davila, housing co-chair for COPS/Metro Alliance, said the program represents a major step toward protecting vulnerable families. However, her the community organizing group's data suggests that 30,000 local residents now teeter on the brink of financial disaster. That puts the total need closer to $70 million.
"We're going to ask the county to match that [$25 million] if they can," said Davila, who represents St. Timothy Catholic Church. "Then we'll have to go after private dollars to fill in the gaps."
COPS/Metro began pushing city leaders two weeks ago to expand the emergency funding. Because local dollars added to the pot come with fewer restrictions, they'll be available to a larger number of local residents, including those without documents.
"We weren't going to let it go," Davila said. "We met with one councilperson after the other. We met with the city manager, the assistant city managers."
San Antonio, Bexar County Boost Housing Assistance 30 Fold, Rivard Report [pdf]]
San Antonio Council Votes for $25 Million Fund to Help Residents with Rent, Food and Medicine, San Antonio Current [pdf]f]
City Council Vote on Possibly Adding Millions to Housing Assistance Fund, FOX San Antonio [pdf]