Wharton Commissioners Aren’t Big Fans…Of Subsidies

Wharton Commissioners Aren’t Big Fans…Of Subsidies

A wind generator.

A wind generator.

The El Campo Leader News reports that the Commissioners Court this week rejected the effort of a proposed wind farm to get Chapter 312 tax abatements from the residents of Wharton County:

The Wharton County Commissioners Court unanimously decided not to move forward with a 312 tax abatement application from Wharton Wind, LLC during its Monday session. The 5-0 decision came in front of dozens of people who packed the meeting room inside the Wharton County Annex Building in Wharton.

The decision came in front of local activists who packed the courtroom to tell their commissioners to reject subsidies for wind development.

Some in attendance wore red shirts that displayed their displeasure for wind farms in some way as they sat quietly listening. “Say no to inflicting harm on neighbors, destroying our open prairies, limiting our agriculture diversity, decreasing land value, shadow flicker, ambient noise levels, funding an industry that can’t support itself, 313 and 312 abatements, false promises,” the shirts read.

This victory comes after locals became aware that negotiations over leasing land and subsidies from their local governments were taking place. The result was a months-long battle during which a Wharton County resident leading the fight against subsidies was threatened with legal action by the wind developer.

That resident, Cricia Ryan, released a statement on the decision from the group she leads, Wharton County Against Wind Farms:

Our group wishes to express its great appreciation to the Wharton County Commissioners Court for exploring the pros and the cons of the proposed wind farm project and for patiently listing to the voices of the concerned citizens.

At a Texas Public Policy Foundation event in Wharton County late last year, residents voiced concerns about the harm to local agriculture business and the reliability of the electric supply that would come from a new wind farm. They also expressed frustration about the secretiveness about the process of granting Chapter 312 and 313 tax abatements. The 150 people gathered at a BBQ joint then went on to lobby their local government and succeeded in getting a resounding “no” to the cronyism of local tax breaks under Texas Tax Code Chapter 312.

The success of Wharton County activists shows when people are aware that these deals are being made, they can make a difference.

If residents don’t want subsidies, they have a steep hill to climb under current law. These deals are usually hidden from public view because negotiations and documents related to 312 and 313 tax abatements are exempted from the provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Acts. The result is a system that that pits residents against their local governments and fosters questionable relationships between local officials and businesses.  By the time most citizens learn about these deals—usually 72 hours before they are voted on, they up against months of negotiations and the flow of cash into government coffers.

The tale from Wharton, however, is reason for hope. Though even their fight is not over. Last year, El Campo ISD used the lack of transparency in the 313 process to accept and forward to the Texas Comptroller an application for the proposed wind farm. Once the application has been processed by the Comptroller’s office, the trustees of the El Campo school board will have to decide whether to grant or reject the requested abatements.

Residents across the state are making it known that subsidies for wind and solar are a bad deal for Texas. But the lesson in Wharton County and other counites across the state are clear. There needs to be more transparency in the 312 and 313 process.

As more and more rural Texans speak out, the Legislature should take note of these fights. Texans don’t want more wind farms. And they don’t want their tax dollars going to support them.

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