Government officials in Williamson County have been on a spending spree with citizens’ money—and the worst part is that they’re spending it on corrupt special deals.
A recent report by Community Impact detailed how Round Rock, Pflugerville, and Hutto have ramped up their “economic incentive” deals over the past few years. These “incentives” are simply a facade term for giving hand-picked businesses special treatment.
Here’s how the deals work: City officials will take citizens’ tax money and give it to a hand-picked business they like. On top of the cash, city officials will often throw in other special perks, such as exemption from taxes.
Picture this—a city official knocks on your door, demands you pay full taxes, then takes your money across the street and gives it to your next-door neighbor. Oh, and that neighbor doesn’t have to pay any taxes.
Not exactly justice.
Local cities and Williamson County itself are all making these deals, and increasingly so. Round Rock made five deals from 2000 to 2008, but in the time since then, they’ve made 32. Pflugerville and Hutto are also on the rise. Williamson County just approved a special deal with Apple in December. Cedar Park just made a deal with a large real estate development Thursday night.
The cash bonuses, tax exemptions, waived fees, and other special perks total over a hundred million dollars. City officials have doled out special treatment to companies such as Emerson, IKEA, Kalahari Indoor Waterpark Resort, The Ruby Boutique Hotel, and numerous others.
Local officials try to justify their exclusive deals by saying they need to give special treatment in order for the companies to choose their cities. Round Rock’s website says it’s “often necessary” to give special treatment to “highly prized” companies such as Kalahari Resorts.
But one look at the numbers reveals how false that claim is.
For example, in 2011 Round Rock pledged $1 million in benefits to tech-giant Emerson who built their headquarters in the area. That year, Emerson’s revenues amounted to around $24 billion.
That means Round Rock’s special perks were worth roughly four one-thousandths (0.004) of a percent of Emerson’s annual revenue. Williamson County’s recent deal with Apple was similar, worth maybe five one-thousandths (0.005) of Apple’s $265 billion of one-year revenue. Fractions of a percent don’t quite seem like enough to make the deal “necessary.”
To put those numbers in perspective, imagine looking for a job and receiving several salary offers of $50,000, but one employer throws in a $2 signing bonus.
A couple of value menu cheeseburgers most likely won’t be the deciding factor in a job search.
Surprisingly, local officials still try to convince citizens that their deals aren’t actually corrupt or pointless, that using citizens’ money to give special treatment is a good thing.
“[This deal] is a win for everybody,” said County Judge Bill Gravell about the Apple deal. “Williamson County is winning and the people of Williamson County are winning.”
Ask citizens which they think is more of a win: keeping more of their money to provide for their families, or paying more to officials who give their cash to exclusive companies.
Citizens in Williamson County: If you want your local government officials to stop using your money to make corrupt, pointless special deals, contact them.
It’s your money at stake, after all.