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Unions fighting potential Travis County incentive deal for Tesla factory

Travis County commissioners discussed a suspected Tesla incentives project yesterday.

Travis County commissioners are considering an economic incentives deal that they have declined to be specific about, but public comment from local union representatives has been on one topic: a potential Tesla assembly plant.


Austin was recently reported to be one of two finalists for a new Tesla "Gigafactory," and the Austin American-Statesman reported Mondaythat Travis County commissioners would discuss an incentives agreement for the company in a closed session at its Tuesday meeting.

The commissioners did not formally confirm that they were discussing a deal with Tesla, but did not deny it. Spokesperson Hector Nieto said the county had no comment.

Callers into the virtual meeting asked commissioners to slow down and make more transparent their discussions. Among them was Carol Guthrie, business manager for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local Union 1624, which represents Austin and Travis County government employees.

"What is difficult here is we are talking about someone who is a billionaire—not million, but billionaire—and to consider now that perhaps they need incentives in order to come to Travis County is absolutely shameful, especially when your own employees are not getting a pay raise because were told the funds just weren't there," Guthrie said.

In a letter to commissioners, United Auto Workers Vice President Cindy Estrada and Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy, among others, alerted commissioners to Tesla's "troubled history with taxpayer subsidies."

In a press release issued Monday, Estrada elaborated: "Tesla has a track record of collecting public subsidies from several states but not delivering on their promises," she said.



Jessica Wolff, deputy policy director for the Workers Defense Project, asked commissioners to consider requiring benefits such as paid family and sick leave as a condition of any incentive deals.

Commissioners took no action on the agenda item. County Judge Sam Briscoe said it will be back on the agenda at next week's meeting.

Last July, commissioners voted to "pause" accepting new applications for economic incentive agreements after the Texas Legislature approved a property tax revenue cap. The cap—which was scheduled to take effect this October but may be postponed due to the pandemic—limits how much property tax revenue local governments can collect.

"We simply cannot afford to give preferential tax treatment to our wealthiest corporate citizens, or prospective wealthy corporate citizens, under a 3.5% revenue cap," then-County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. "This is a 'like-to-have' that we simply can't afford under this new normal."

But on May 26 they voted to un-pause "for one special project for up to two months." The project was not named.

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