Last week, Mississippi’s Republican-controlled government cut off $500 million of COVID-19 jobless aid for nearly 100,000 of its citizens, joining a national GOP campaign to portray jobless workers as lazy layabouts who don’t need assistance. At the same time, it was reported that the same Republican-run Mississippi government allowed $1.1 million worth of welfare cash to flow to Brett Favre for speeches he never gave — and he has yet to return $600,000 of it.
But now, the Lone Star State is living up to the saying that everything is bigger in Texas, even greed and hypocrisy. In the last week and a half, Texas Republicans moved to block $8 billion worth of pandemic unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people just days after voting to extend a corporate subsidy program that is enriching fossil fuel companies and has already cost the state $10 billion.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced the end of the federal unemployment benefits on Monday. With his state facing a 6.9 percent unemployment rate, Abbott said he wants the government “helping unemployed Texans connect with the more than a million job openings, rather than paying unemployment benefits to remain off the employment rolls.”
The move follows Abbott’s office spearheading the GOP’s fight against a $15 minimum wage, saying it “would put a boot on the neck of small businesses.” Abbott also pushed legislation to shield corporations from liability if their workers get COVID on the job.
Nine days before Abbott publicly decried benefits for the jobless and suggested Texans don’t need the help, his fellow Texas Republicans in the state House advanced a bill to extend the state’s Chapter 313 program, which subsidizes massive property tax breaks for corporations.
The situation represents a big win for lobby groups such as the Texas Association of Business, which has been simultaneously demanding an end to aid for jobless workers and calling for the preservation of Chapter 313’s giant taxpayer handouts to its corporate members. The latter is also a win for the fossil fuel industry, whose donors have poured more than $58 million into Texas elections in the last 5 years.
“The lion’s share of the program’s tax bounty — 60 percent — goes to refineries, chemical plants, liquified natural gas facilities, and other fossil-fuel projects concentrated along the Gulf Coast,” the Texas Observer recently reported. “Oil and gas giants that have long bossed Texas, like Exxon Mobil, Chevron Phillips, Dow Chemical, and Enterprise Products Partners, have each saved hundreds of millions in property taxes thanks to Chapter 313.”
The fossil fuel industry is not the only beneficiary of the program: Chapter 313 is slated to funnel tens of millions of dollars to Tesla, which is owned by the world’s second wealthiest man, Elon Musk.
Proponents of the tax subsidy program have argued that it creates jobs. But a recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that the program “now costs more than $1.1 million in tax breaks per new job” and reported that “by any metric, costs are rising — and there’s no telling how high they’ll go.” The newspaper also reported that “at least 30 companies failed to fulfill their job-creation promises since 2019 but faced no repercussions.”
Meanwhile, an analysis by University of Texas-Austin professor Nate Jensen found that “85-90 percent of projects would have located in Texas without the 313 program and 80 percent of the program’s dollars are lost revenue for the state’s school finance system.”
The Republican legislation that just passed the Texas House extends the program to 2024 - at a projected cost of nearly $4 billion, according to a recent report from Texas’s Republican Comptroller. The legislation now moves to the state Senate.
A separate bill to expand the program has been delayed.
Photo information: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (AP Photo/LM Otero)