A candidate forum this week featuring Democrat and Republican nominees for a Dallas-area state House District highlighted the disconnect between politicians in both parties and the people they aim to represent—this time, on the issue of subsidizing businesses with special property tax breaks at the expense of other taxpayers.
Candidates Mihaela Plesa (D) and Jamee Jolly (R), who are competing for the open Texas House District 70 seat in Plano, both said they support reviving Texas’ corporate welfare program known as Chapter 313 (after the relevant section of the Texas Tax Code).
The program allows school districts to give 10-year property tax abatements to select companies in certain industries, including “renewable energy.”
Yet both the Democrat and Republican platforms, crafted by grassroots activists within each party, oppose “property tax abatements” and other “corporate welfare” incentives that unfairly favor some businesses at the expense of other companies and individual taxpayers.
“Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be stuck with increased tax bills in order to carry the cost of well-connected businesses,” said Texans for Fiscal Responsibility President Tim Hardin, adding that government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.
The Chapter 313 program is set to expire at the end of 2022, after the Texas Legislature failed to renew it during the 2021 session.
But lawmakers are already hatching plans to revive the program or create a similar “economic incentive” scheme.
The candidates spoke on the issue Tuesday at a forum hosted by the Plano Chamber of Commerce, which Jolly headed from 2010 to 2019.
Noting that the Plano Chamber has “long supported the use of this tax abatement incentive to help increase economic development,” the forum moderator asked the candidates if they would “support the creation of a new Chapter 313 economic incentive program.”
“The simple answer is yes,” Jolly said. “I think 313s are a tool in our tool chest.”
What’s different about a 313 agreement than other economic development incentives is it’s really targeting capital-intensive projects … that will help generate property taxes over time. It’s a tool that’s important in Texas because it helps us to combat our high property taxes in counties where they need this kind of investment.
Jolly said 400 projects “in the queue” right now are mostly solar, oil and gas manufacturing, and wind, which she claimed will help address the state’s need for reliable energy sources.
Plesa agreed with Jolly, saying she too would bring back the Chapter 313 program.
“Yes, I would support it,” Plesa said. “At the end of the day, it has worked here in Collin County and we have done it the right way.”
We have to make really hard decisions when we are down in Austin. Sometimes decisions that normally you would think you would be against—once you look at the words, once you analyze the meaning and the intent of the legislation, and how it’s going to be put to use—then yes, you can go and vote on these things.
“My fear is that the Legislature doesn’t have an appetite to bring it up,” she added.
Neither candidate mentioned their party’s opposition to the policy they were promoting.
The candidates also answered questions about property taxes, school finance, transportation infrastructure, crime, healthcare, mental health, and how to maintain a “business-friendly environment” that attracts companies to North Texas.
Jolly and Plesa are competing in a newly redrawn House District 70, which covers the southwest corner of Collin County, including a large part of Plano and small portions of Allen, Dallas, and Richardson. The old district was reliably Republican, but the new boundaries make HD 70 competitive.
Jolly, who also previously worked for the Plano ISD Education Foundation, has raised more than $1 million in campaign donations. Her top donors include Associated Republicans of Texas ($329,000), Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan ($159,000), and the Texas Association of Realtors PAC ($143,000). Jolly’s husband is the Immediate Past Chair of Texas Realtors.
Plesa, a former legislative director for State Rep. Ray Lopez (D–San Antonio), has raised $390,000 in campaign donations. Her top donors include her fiancé, Todd Hollenshead ($50,000), and the now-dissolved Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee ($36,500).
They are on the November general election ballot with other candidates for federal, state, and local offices. Some voters’ ballots will also include propositions seeking approval to raise property taxes, issue bonds, or change city charters.
Early voting starts October 24 and ends November 4. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.
Watch the entire candidate forum here.
Page 46 of the 2022 Texas Democratic Party Platform:
Prohibit “corporate welfare” incentives that pit states and communities against each other.
Page 13 of the 2022 Republican Party of Texas Platform:
94. Property Tax Abatements: We support repealing Tax Code Chapter 312 county and municipal property tax abatements, and we oppose reintroducing school property tax abatements, formerly known as Chapter 313.