Public News Service: Texas School Districts May Owe Oil Companies Millions

Texas billionaires have a collective worth of $92.8 billion. Yet the state budget crisis "forced" the state legislature to cut $15 billion from education and health care spending.

AUSTIN, Texas – Already hard-hit by more than $4 billion of state cuts, Texas school districts may have to pony up millions more to some of the nation’s largest oil refineries.

So far, 16 companies, including Valero Energy, have requested $135 million in property-tax rebates they say are owed to them for installing pollution-control devices covered by a state incentive program.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, spokesman for Public Citizen of Texas, says the controversy comes at a pivotal time for Gov. Rick Perry, who announced Tuesday he would slash both the federal Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency if elected president.

“At a time when the refining industry is making near-record profits, this is a real critical question for Gov. Perry. Are you going to stand up for the school kids, or are you going to stand up for corporate welfare for the biggest polluters in the state?”

Perry has said he trusts the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to evaluate the refund requests, but Smith says TCEQ’s members – all appointed by the governor – have a pro-corporate history. Unless there’s a public outcry, Smith fears, they will side with an industry which has donated heavily to past Perry campaigns.

“The tendency of the TCEQ is to bend over backwards and give these large corporate polluters everything they want at the expense, in this case, of the schoolchildren of Texas and the taxpayers of the state.”

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