Travis County wants to become an economic stimulator. At their regular meeting, county commissioners discussed a proposal to amend the county tax code in order to offer an incentive for businesses that want to relocate to Travis County. The City of Austin and the State of Texas have similar programs, but commissioners are proposing something different.
Commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Ron Davis are pushing the tax policy change. The amendment would cap the tax abatement at lower level unless the company agreed to train and/or hire economically disadvantaged residents who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, ($27, 780 for an individual, $44,700 for a family of four).
“One concern that I think this court has often raised is that the job creation of many of the economic development activity is for people who are at the master’s degree level,” said Eckhardt.
Facebook, Sun Power, Hanger Orthopedics and other tech types have benefited from business incentives and some say Formula One will probably be offered some kind of lure. More manufacturing jobs is one of the goals.
Impeding budget cuts is what’s helping expedite the proposal. Commissioners see this as a proactive step to helping future unemployed residents. Austin ISD last month mentioned cutting about 450 jobs and Governor Rick Perry during his State of the State speech today proposed eliminating four state agencies and consolidating many more. The State employs a large portion of Travis County residents.
“Are we going to look at the minimum pay that these folks would also receive?” asked Commissioner Margaret Gomez. “Because you can have a job and still be poor.”
As a result, Commissioners got creative, though, in language. The definition of an employee is a full time one. So part-time or season workers don’t count toward achieving the 50-percent requirement. The proposed tax amendment requires half a company’s workforce be Travis County residents and receive health benefits.
But Commissioner Eckhardt wasn’t very optimistic in squeezing more requirements.
“I would anticipate that if we are getting kickback from the Chamber of Commerce just on the hiring requirement of 50 percent from Travis County, they’re going to howl like a cat thrown in water, if we demand a living wage,” Eckhart said. “Although I would absolutely support you in that demand,” she told Gomez.
Companies interested in the proposed tax incentive would have to meet these three requirements:
- Show leadership in energy and environmental affairs.
- Locate to an area of Travis County that is deemed an “activity node” by CAMPO and Travis County.
- Train and/or hire economically disadvantaged Travis County residents.
But all this is just a proposal. Commissioner have slated March 3 at 1:30 p.m. to meet with representatives of the Texas Workforce Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Austin, the Governor’s Economic Development Office and many others to hammer out a draft policy.