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Almost there: Travis County OKs Tesla incentives, hoping to snag $1.1 billion 'Gigafactory' for Austin
Travis County commissioners approved a 20-year economic incentive agreement with the electric carmaker Tesla to bring a billion-dollar "Gigafactory" to a site in Southeast Austin.
The deal would, at minimum, provide a 70% tax rebate in exchange for a $1.1 billion investment from the company. The proposed factory, according to the agreement, would provide at least 5,000 jobs and produce both the Tesla Cybertruck and its Model Y.
The county's vote, which follows an agreement with the Del Valle ISD school board, brings the Tesla project one step closer to Austin, though the company has not yet said where its next factory will be. At least one other city is still under discussion.
The terms of the deal changed since commissioners last discussed it publicly and now tie tax rebates to increased investment.
Originally, Tesla applied for an 80% property tax rebate on its factory property for the first decade and a 65% rebate for the next. The approved deal provides a 70% rebate for the first $1.1 billion invested over five years. Further investment triggers a higher rebate rate: 75% for $1.1-$2 billion and 80% for anything over $2 billion.
"The structure of the baseline incentive has been reworked to encourage greater overall investment," Travis County Executive Jessica Rio wrote in a summary.
Assuming a $1.1 billion investment over 10 years—and the current operations and maintenance tax rate—Tesla would get rebates of more than $24 million and Travis County would reap around $10.3 million in property tax revenue.
The proposed site of the factory is currently a sand and gravel mining operation. It generates around $6,400 in annual property tax revenue for Travis County.
What Tesla offers
The approved deal also requires Tesla to create a certain number of jobs annually and hire Travis County employees for at least 50% of them under penalty of reduced rebates. The company must also pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour, including to janitorial and food service staff as well as construction workers, even if they are employed by contractors and subcontractors.
If Tesla does not reach at least 75% of the job creation or investment target for a given year, the rebate will be scrapped entirely. If Tesla breaches the contract, it is required to return the last two years' of rebate dollars.
County staff and supporters of the deal argue the rebates are worthwhile not only because of the additional tax revenue that will result from such a sizeable investment but also because of the factory jobs that will be created.
There could also be long-term benefits.
Norris Sebastian, coordinator of DVISD's career and technical education program, called into the Commissioners Court to express his support for the deal. "Tesla … will drive interest and participation in STEM careers for underrepresented student groups," he said. "Remember, Tesla has the cool factor."
But opponents of the deal said it doesn't do enough to protect workers and chastised the county for presenting new terms at the last minute.
Juan Pedro Munoz, a construction worker, said there are no provisions for independent on-site monitoring to protect construction workers against wage theft and other abuses. He also questioned why the county didn't require Tesla to adhere to its own Better Builder standards.
This article has been updated from the original.
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Summertime sure does fly by, doesn't it? It's time to jam-pack as many summer activities as you can while there is still about a month left before school starts up again and the grind gets going. Luckily, Austin is full of places to visit that will fill your season full of memories.
To get you started, check out some of these seasonably-fit museums, galleries and snacks.
Beyond Van Gogh, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd.
Like the name suggests, Beyond Van Gogh Austin takes visitors deeper into the Dutch painter's work by surrounding them in his post-impressionist world. Aptly taking place at the Starry Night Pavilion at the Circuit of the Americas, this immersive exhibit allows Vincent Van Gogh's masterpieces to be "freed from frames" as they are projected onto the walls and floors for guests to explore. Van Gogh's thoughts, dreams and words are set to a symphonic score to drive the narrative as you walk through the rooms, giving visitors insight into the tortured artist's swirly world. Adult tickets start at $46.99, children at $28.99 and it offers student and military discounts while the museum runs through Sept. 5.
Museum of Ice Cream, 11506 Century Oaks Terrace
The runaway hit from New York City has made its way to Austin, complete with a rainbow sprinkle pool, banana forest and bright-pink-everything exterior. The Museum of Ice Cream is a favorite of major celebrities—Beyoncé, Ryan Reynolds and the Kardashian Krew have all been spotted at the New York Location. The whimsical museum promises an undisclosed "Texas twist" at its new Austin location, which also has an on-brand café that serves Museum of Ice Cream original treats. You didn't think you'd leave without ice cream, did you? Tickets run $39 per person.
The Selfie Galleries, 3220 Amy Donovan Plaza
Looking for a place to get that perfect summer selfie? Look no further, because the newly-opened Selfie Galleries has 20 wildly decorated different rooms to roam through, capturing an unforgettable photo of yourself and your faves in each one. The backdrops were made so you can flex your creative muscle and make some documented memories at the same time. The gallery also hosts mixers for all age groups so you can meet local Austinites in a safe setting. Tickets start at $20 for an hour, $40 for two, depending on how many people you bring along.
Wonderspaces, 1205 Sheldon Cove
The self-proclaimed "new home for extraordinary art," Wonderspaces is an interactive art gallery like you've never experienced before. With rotating exhibits that you can touch, Instagram and ogle, the artwork is designed for everyone to create their own unique experience when visiting. Virtual reality, a house of mirrors, anonymous conversations and a dragon made of teabags are just a few of the wild installations that make this museum what it is—plus, you can enjoy some local brews at the Wonderspaces Bar. Adults can visit for $24, kids for $15 or you can get an annual pass for $99 and visit each new piece.
Milk Bar Bakery, delivery only
Maybe you want an experience without the outing. Thanks to ghost kitchens, the brainchild of Christina Tosi came all the way from The Big Apple to the Lone Star State. The well-celebrated Milk Bar Bakery is now available in Austin through third-party delivery only, meaning you can get the full line of milk bar cookies, bar pie, truffle crumb cakes and its famous layered birthday cakes through UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash and Postmates only. If you haven't had these rich cookies yet, it's time to fire up that delivery app and get to ordering!
Soak up the rest of summer while you can!
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
The Biden administration is asking cities and states to use pandemic relief funds to pay residents $100 to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott reaffirmed prohibitions on pandemic protocols in a new executive order issued on Thursday.
The order emphasizes that "the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates," according to a press release. It outlaws government entities from requiring employees to be vaccinated or individuals to provide proof of vaccination and upholds previous orders restricting government entities' ability to impose pandemic protocols.
Local public health and elected officials have asked all Austinites to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, and unvaccinated individuals to avoid nonessential trips last week given the rising number of local confirmed cases and related hospitalizations in recent weeks. But it is not enforceable under Abbott's order.
The seven-day moving average of new hospital admissions in the five-county Austin metro has more than quintupled since the beginning of July and is now 47.4. The threshold for Stage 5 is 50, according to Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines.
Despite these trends, Abbott stands firm in his commitment to avoid new statewide mandates and to prohibit local government entities from issuing any of their own.
"Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19," he said in a statement. "They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."
Public health officials have attributed the current spike to the more contagious Delta variant and unmitigated spread among unvaccinated individuals. Abbott encouraged Texans to get vaccinated if they haven't already but affirmed that it would never be required by the state in his statement.
An increasing number of Austin-area employers—including Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health, Facebook and the Department of Veterans Affairs—have announced new vaccine requirements in recent days. Austin Mayor Steve Adler asked the city manager to enact a similar requirement on Wednesday, but the city is unable to do so due to an executive order issued by Abbott in April.
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