Monday, October 30, 2023 by Ken Chambers
Travis County Commissioners Court has upheld tax breaks for Tesla’s East Austin factory and approved the company’s plan to donate $750,000 as part of a tax incentive deal.
That’s more than double the amount — $298,000 — the electric vehicle maker has to spend based on the $2.9 million in tax credits it received in 2022. Tesla received a total of $64 million in state and local tax breaks to build the factory.
No one voiced opposition during the Oct. 17 meeting, and commissioners unanimously approved the spending plan.
When the 10-year tax incentives were proposed in 2020, supporters said the new factory was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring jobs and investment to Travis County. They urged commissioners to act quickly to prevent Tesla from choosing another site.
A coalition of labor, environmental and community organizations opposed the deal. They pointed to Tesla’s record of factory safety violations and allegations of wage theft. They noted that the $15 minimum wage approved for the Tesla factory is not a living wage in Travis County. Tesla’s factories are not unionized, and workers earn about a third less than unionized workers at the big three automakers. During the rushed negotiations, opponents decried the lack of discussion, transparency and oversight.
The practice of corporations pitting cities against each other for tax breaks is controversial. Opponents argue that the benefits to corporations far outweigh the benefits to local communities. Austin is competing with Tulsa, Oklahoma to land the Tesla factory.
In defending the agreement during the Oct. 17 meeting, District 2 Commissioner Brigid Shay acknowledged the controversy but pointed to the economic benefits the factory brings to Travis County.
“We heard from a lot of people. They weren’t that thrilled that the richest man in the world (Tesla CEO Elon Musk) was getting these tax breaks,” Shea recalled.
“What was there before was a sand and gravel operation. What Travis County received from them in property tax was $642,” Shay continued. “For anyone still complaining, these guys are creating a minimum of 5,000 jobs.”
Told the real total was 15,000 jobs, Shay said: “That’s phenomenal. Just today I hear that number.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion pointed out that the factory provides opportunities for children who previously had few opportunities.
“When kids in Del Valle, kids in Manor, Elgin, Pflugerville have access to these types of opportunities, the easier it becomes to reach our goal of 50 percent employment by people who live in the county,” he said.
The $750,000 spending plan includes $376,880 for additional teachers in the Del Valle Independent School District, $100,000 to support student career development, $100,000 for sustainability and environmental programming in local schools and $75,000 for the Austin Area Urban League to sustainability training.
The photo is available through a Creative Commons license.
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