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Other Voices

Beverly Powell: keep economic development incentives so Tarrant County can complete

Fort Worth is now the fifteenth largest city in the United States, with an estimated population of 829,560. It is estimated that Fort Worth’s population will exceed 1.2 million people by 2030.

This growth presents challenges and opportunities.

As outlined in the City’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, the largest city in Tarrant county has not become the economic engine America’s fifteenth largest city should be. Moving forward, Fort Worth’s plan lays out a roadmap for the city to “embrace its status as a major US city and compete on the national and international stage.”

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Among other things, the plan calls for a greater emphasis on STEM education and training and the development of robust economic incentives to generate growth in specific geographic areas and targeted industries. In order to successfully navigate this roadmap, Fort Worth’s state and local representatives must work in partnership.

Our local officials are doing their part. Unfortunately, there is a movement to erode local control, kill local economic development incentives and interfere with local school district policies. At a time when we should be navigating the path together, there are a lot of potential roadblocks ahead.

Too many in Austin oppose common-sense economic incentives like those used to bring a Facebook data center to Fort Worth, which is estimated to create thousands of new jobs in our region.

Some Austin officials would abolish state and local economic development incentives. They say they don’t believe government should “pick winners and losers”. If they have their way, it may true that they won’t be picking winners. But they will surely be picking the loser, and it will be us.

If Texas communities are forced to stop offering economic incentives, businesses will take their jobs to communities in states where leaders understand effective economic development incentives are investments that pay big dividends.

That’s why, in the next legislative session, we must be aggressive about protecting the essential tools made available to Texas communities to incentivize local economic growth and job creation. As the Texas House Committee on Economic Competitiveness put it in March, “The successful use of economic incentives centers on local control.”

As a starting point, Chapter 312 of the Texas Tax Code, which authorizes cities and counties to temporarily abate property taxes for economic development projects, will expire on September 1, 2019, unless the legislature extends it. Thanks to the tools available in Chapter 312, thousands of jobs have been created or retained in Fort Worth and General Motors has expanded its operations and created hundreds of new jobs in Arlington.

Considering that Texas has some of the highest property taxes in the nation and most states offer similar economic development incentives, it is imperative that the legislature extends Chapter 312 authority in the next session.

Tarrant County families deserve leaders who will grow our economy, rather force us onto an uneven playing field. That’s why, next legislative session, lawmakers should pass legislation that bars Austin politicians from meddling with local economic development tools so long as communities in other states are able to offer similar programs. This proposal will help protect important tools that empower local governments to diversify their tax bases and ensure job growth keeps pace with population growth.

Finally, Tarrant County residents also deserve leaders who will connect the dots between education and economic development. It’s time for Texas to re-prioritize investment in education. Our schools need partners who share a vision for equipping Texans with the knowledge and skills that will set our communities apart. As a former school board trustee, I worked to help create public schools of choice, enhance STEM learning and expand higher education opportunities tailored to meet the needs of employers. That’s exactly the perspective Austin needs.

We have a great roadmap for a prosperous future. Successful navigation depends on removing the roadblocks and traveling the road together, as partners.

Beverly Powell, of Burleson, is the Democratic nominee running for Texas Senate District 10. The Star-Telegram has invited her opponent, Republican incumbent Konni Burton, to also contribute her perspective.

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