Senators Ellis and Davis Request AG Opinion on Tax Break Request That Could Cost Texas Schools

EDUCATION kid walking to school

Senators Rodney Ellis and Wendy Davis say the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) should reject a pollution control tax break request pending before the agency because the equipment in question provides no on-site environmental benefit.

In a written request for an opinion from the Texas Attorney General, Senators Ellis and Davis outline why the request does not meet the statutory guidelines of a 1993 Texas constitutional amendment passed by voters and why it fails to meet the legislative intent of lawmakers who placed the issue before voters. They write: “… the equipment at issue provides no environmental benefit at or near the site.”

The Senators point out to the AG that, if the request is approved, it could mean that a school district just outside of Houston would have to cough up tens of millions of dollars to the San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp. And the refinery company’s request before TCEQ could have a broad impact on Texas school funding as dozens of other requests similar to Valero’s remain pending.

The request, filed by Valero in 2007, was recommended for rejection by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff. But that recommendation was disregarded by Governor Perry’s political appointees to TCEQ, who are continuing to consider the tax refund request. The property tax relief the company is seeking falls under a 1993 Texas constitutional amendment that is intended to provide a benefit for the installation of on-site pollution control technology.

TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, the Perry appointee who asked the agency staff to re-evaluate Valero’s request, has been criticized as an industry ally. Perry has received the second-most donations in Texas from Valero – more than $147,000 from the company, its PAC and employees since 2004, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Shaw has also stood with Perry in public denials of climate change being caused by humans and he was recently accused of censoring an environmental report on Galveston Bay by a Rice University oceanographer, removing any references to climate change being caused by humans and that human activity is causing the sea level to rise.

“Our kids deserve better than another cynical attempt to pull funding away from their education,” Ellis said. “TCEQ’s decision would risk literally millions of dollars being taken from Texas schools, which would come on top of the billions cut last legislative session. Already we are seeing the impacts of those cuts in my local schools. In just one year, Houston ISD, for example, has seen a 51 percent increase in the number of elementary school classrooms that are exceeding the state’s class size cap.”

Senators Ellis and Davis requested the AG opinion to clarify the intent and the application of the 1993 law in order to assure that Texas taxpayers and schoolchildren are not victimized by political maneuvering that would override the intentions of the constitutional amendment.

“With Texas schools already facing cuts of more than $5 billion over the next two years, we cannot afford to allow political maneuvering to bleed even more resources from our children’s classrooms,” Davis said. ” Favors to political cronies should never be allowed, particularly where they trump the interests of Texas’ schoolchildren.”


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