Texans for Public Justice is proud to release its new series investigating abuses and misuses of public assets for private gain. “Watch Your Assets” will expose ways in which private interests benefit from resources that should be protected for the public good. We hope you enjoy the reports. Don’t forget to visit the site to “watch your assets” in the months to come. Please send feedback as we develop this new project. —Lauren Reinlie, Project Director
Slashing prices on the way to becoming the planet's biggest corporation, Wal-Mart has not skimped on everything. The company is the retail industry's top spender on Washington and Austin lobbyists, who seek to minimize Wal-Mart's taxes even as they hustle Wal-Mart subsidies that come courtesy of other taxpayers. The latest "Watch Your Assets" report analyzes Wal-Mart subsidies in Texas' major metropolitan areas, uncovering $33 million in taxpayer transfers to the retail king.
Yesterday the Texas Department of Transportation declared Governor Rick Perrys controversial vision for the $175 billion Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) officially dead. For six years, Perry and his political allies have pushed the TTC plan to privatize more than 4,000 miles of state roads. While the governor's grand dream has vanished as a political target, some of the toll roads will live on. The path to these roads was paved with $3.4 million in campaign contributions and up to $6 million in lobby expenditures. While the rush to toll roads creates windfalls for some contractors, the benefits for Texas motorists and taxpayers are unclear.
Texas taxpayers are being conscripted into an epic battle to see which state treasury will give movie producers the fattest subsidies. Film lobbyists now are preparing to press state lawmakers to triple Texas' current subsidies in an effort to compete with states that pay up to 40 percent of a film's budget. In addition to subsidizing the big screen, few Texas taxpayers realize that they underwrite television programs and even pick up the tab for TV commercials promoting Fortune 500 companies!
Within two weeks, Austin voters will face the nation's first ballot initiative to ban retail subsidies. In 2003, the City approved $57 to $65 million in publicly-funded subsidies to the Domain "lifestyle" mall in north Austin, operated by mall behemoth Simon Properties. The Stop Domain Subsidies coalition is asking voters to approve the ban on retail subsidies, which let the city funnel taxpayer money to retailers that are competing with local businesses instead of investing the funds in public services that have recently faced budget cuts.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has sown confusion with recent contradictory statements about the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. His populist aversion to "using taxpayer dollars to bail out corporate America" is surprising--given the hundreds of millions of tax dollars that his administration has doled out to private businesses that include subprime mortgage giants.
In 2001 Midland's conservative voters swallowed concerns about government economic planning to approve a tax to promote economic development and diversification. The Midland Development Corp. has awarded millions of tax dollars to handpicked companies to diversify Midland's dependence on oil, however, these big-ticket investments have been spectacular flops. Now the agency increasingly invests in the booming oil industry -- which needs no government aid.
Last year Governor Rick Perry proposed selling or leasing the Texas Lottery to collect a quick payout of somewhere between $14 billion and $20 billion. Projections that the financial and gambling industries have submitted to the governor's office make clear that the state cannot raise a payout of this size unless gambling is significantly expanded in the state.
The following reports were made possible by a grant from the Keep the Land Foundation.
For its own facilities, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice dutifully maintains records on such matters as the number of officers each facility employs and which employees have been disciplined. The agency does not collect this data for its privately-operated facilities, which cost the state over $200 million a year. Despite squalid conditions at a youth detention center which led to a cancellation of its contract, private prison corporation GEO Group continues to operate nine corrections facilities in Texas.
December 18, 2007
State Development Fund Rewards Hype:
Incentives Great, Penalties Few For Companies That Overstate Their Benefits
The Enterprise Fund has awarded $233 million - almost two-thirds of its total grants - to companies that have publicly announced layoffs or have failed to meet job requirements of their agreements with the state. Companies with layoffs or meager job growth are often protected from facing penalties. The three companies that have been required to return a portion of their grants for failing to meet job targets have collectively returned less than one percent of their total grants.
The City of Austin is doling out $117 million in publicly financed incentives to attract a select few businesses to the mushrooming metropolis, but many businesses are flocking to the city without the benefit of taxpayer-funded handouts. An analysis of the city's seven economic development incentive deals shows that the costs of these incentives often outweigh the city's optimistic estimates of their long-term benefits.
October 4, 2007
A political shopping spree may have accelerated the efforts of Dallas billionaire T. Boone Pickens to hijack sweeping government powers of eminent domain.
September 6, 2007
Gulf Coast Polluters Dominate School Tax Breaks (Part 2 in a 2 part series)
Texas school districts have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax breaks under a 2001 law. The law was ostensibly designed to lure businesses to develop in districts with low property tax revenue. In practice, the biggest tax breaks are going to oil refineries and petrochemical plants to expand existing facilities within property-rich districts on the north Gulf Coast.
August 23, 2007
Robbing "Robin Hood" (Part 1 in a 2 part series)
Texas school districts are awarding hundreds millions of dollars in property tax breaks to big business in the name of economic development. The state Comptroller estimates these tax breaks could cost the state over $800 million by 2011. While no state agency is tracking the extent of school districts' use of the tax breaks, the districts are using these development agreements to circumvent Robin Hood, the state's policy for redistributing wealth from rich to poor school districts.
July 18, 2007
Texas' grand experiment in privatizing health and human services is a $2 billion cautionary tale that has wasted more tax dollars than it saved. Contractors for four recent privatization boondoggles invested up to $11 million to hire over 100 lobbyists to sell their tax-dollar schemes.
July 5, 2007
From 2004 through 2006, Texas doled out $1.3 billion in federal tax breaks to a handful of private developers to create low-income housing that is beyond the reach of those with the greatest housing needs.
April 26, 2007