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Refineries could benefit from Texas tax credit, funneling millions from local schools

As more school districts pile on to an impending lawsuit over Texas’ school finances, and the $4 billion cuts to public education passed this year, some districts may have to return millions they’ve already received — to pay for tax credits for the state’s largest oil refineries.

As the Associated Press reported Monday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is considering requests for tax credits going back five years, from Valero and other refinery operators, for buying equipment to help lower their emissions:

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 three-person commission last year expressed some support for the refund, prompting concern the panel is preparing to side with the industry in the middle of a budget crisis.

Should the commission approve the request, it would fall in line with Perry’s argument on the GOP presidential campaign trail that by being friendly to business he has attracted businesses and jobs to Texas while other states suffered.

Local officials have suggested for years that it’s time to rein in the tax credit for emissions controls, established by the Texas Legislature nearly 20 years ago. But with the state cutting deeper each legislative session to make ends meet, the monster credits face greater criticism today. As the AP reports:

“We were already cut at the knees as it is, but more cuts? It’s appalling,” said Patricia Gonzales, a single mother of 13-year-old twins at Park View Intermediate School in Pasadena, a refinery town just south of Houston.

David Hodgins, a consultant and attorney for the Texas Association of School Administrators, told the AP that all the districts in the state could share the burden if the tax credits are approved, but that school districts close to the refineries will be hit hardest.

Valero said no one – not the refinery owners, municipalities, commission or appraisal districts – knows how much the industry could get if a refund is granted.

“It’s not going to be a disaster,” said Day, the company spokesman.

“I guarantee you, it’s not a surprise to the school districts,” he added. “Yes, they spent the money, yes we’re asking for an abatement on our pollution control equipment … but this is really no different than a homeowner appealing their property tax, just on a larger scale.”

There’s no deadline for the decision from the TCEQ commissioners, all of whom were appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, leaving school districts to plan for the future without knowing how much they may have to pay back to Valero, or any other refinery operators that may come forward for a refund.

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