AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Superintendents of rural Texas schools on Monday criticized legislation that would incentivize corporate investment with property tax privileges, citing concerns the bill’s exclusion of renewable energy projects would hurt their areas.
House Bill 5 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, aims to attract large manufacturing and energy operations to Texas by facilitating agreements between them and local school districts regarding property tax breaks.
The bill is intended as an answer to the now-expired Chapter 313 tax abatement program, which provided property tax breaks to corporations before the legislature allowed it to expire last legislative session.
Rural school district superintendents testified they agree the new economic development tool would benefit the state. However, they worry it would leave them behind because the latest version of the bill does not extend the same privileges to renewable energy projects.
“I would be testifying for the bill if the bill included renewable energy projects,” Superintendent of Robert Lee ISD Aaron Hood said. “It omits a huge part of Texas, which is rural Texas.”
Hood said 73 percent of current renewable energy projects are located in districts where at least half of students are economically disadvantaged.
Many poorer school districts are located in rural areas around wind farms. Rural leaders argued they could stand to benefit from investment in their areas even more than urban districts.
“I couldn’t help but think of the challenges our district faces on a day to day basis,” Bartlett ISD Superintendent Teddy Clevenger said.
His school district stretches a small $6.5 million budget to support their students, 88 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged.
“My request is we think hard about putting renewables back in for the opportunity that somebody with a solar farm may come in so we can get a couple million dollars to fix facilities.”
The House Ways and Means Committee left House Bill 5 pending on Monday.