Public education — along with Medicaid, women’s health care, and the Texas Forest Service — was gutted in the budget Perry signed this year. But the governor’s hand-picked appointees on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality look likely to raid another $67 million from public schools to give Big Oil a tax break:
Three commissioners appointed by Gov. Rick Perry may grant some of the nation’s largest refineries a tax refund of more than $135 million — money Texas’ cash-strapped schools and other local governments have been counting on to help pay teachers and provide other public services.
The refund would mean more pain for some communities after a year in which state lawmakers had to grapple with a $27 billion shortfall and slashed spending on public schools by more than $4 billion. Nearly half the refund would be taken from public schools, and those in cities where the refineries are based would be hurt the most.[…]
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is evaluating 16 requests for the refund, which concerns a piece of pollution-controlling equipment. If granted, the refund total for those requests could add up to more than $135 million, according to county tax data and application documents analyzed by The Associated Press. What’s more, agency documents show that if the commission grants the requests, at least 12 other refineries that have not sought a refund also could qualify.
The commission has signaled its support for the refund in the past, and Perry has indicated he will fully support the $135 million tax break at the expense of public education. One of the companies that stands to profit the most from the refund, Valero, just happens to be one of Perry’s biggest all-time contributors. Valero, the company that has most persistently lobbied for the refund, could get more than $92 million from the commission. Perry has received more money from the company than any other politician in the country except one.
Texas schools are already plagued by under-funding, low graduation rates, and high childhood poverty. Millions of Texas students began the school year without new textbooks and other essential school supplies because of the cuts Perry approved.
It’s disturbing that during an education and budget crisis in the state, government officials would prioritize the profits of the oil industry over the needs of children and communities. By accepting the refunds, oil companies are taking money away from nearby schools — which should disappoint Texans who place a premium on being good neighbors.