Travis County mulls draft policy for offering tax rebates to companies

On June 26, the Travis County Commissioners Court heard a presentation and public feedback on a draft policy for offering tax incentives to businesses.

Some speakers decried the draft Economic Development Incentive Policy as corporate welfare, while representatives from the business community said the policy was needed to continue local job growth.

Others argued that the policy needed to be tweaked by adding a preamble or changing how incentives were distributed.

The new draft policy drops the minimum amount of investment from $100 million to $25 million and the minimum number of new jobs from 500 to 50.

The court took no action after the hearing and plans to revisit the topic later this year.

Economic development incentives have been in the spotlight recently following the county's agreement with Apple Inc. and the development of the new Formula One track, Circuit of The Americas.

County staff said that the policy's goals included encouraging investment and stimulating job growth. The county could enter into economic development agreements with companies for no longer than 10 years.

Travis County may give a company a base incentive—up to 45 percent of its property taxes as a rebate or abatement—if the company meets certain criteria such as investing at least $25 million into operations within the county, adding at least 50 people and filling half of all positions with county residents.

From there, a company can increase its incentives through greater investment, more new jobs, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building certification, and training and hiring economically disadvantaged residents. Incentives cannot exceed 80 percent of the property value.

The new draft differs from the previous policy in that it adds new incentives and includes recapture provisions for deficient performance.

During public comment, speakers disagreed on the state of the local economy. Some believed that Austin was "smoking hot" while others were less optimistic.

Clarke Heidrick, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce chairman, encouraged the court to adopt the policy. He said Austin had ignored economic development in the early 2000s. It created Opportunity Austin to focus on the region's economic strengths.

Resident Morris Priest said that the policy was corporate welfare, "nothing more, nothing less."

Former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire said he predicted that there would be record numbers of companies requesting tax breaks if the draft policy was passed.