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Austinites testify for, against Precourt bill

Thursday, April 18, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Dave Greeley, president of Precourt Sports Ventures, told a Senate committee Tuesday night that SB 1771 “would jeopardize the viability” of Austin FC, the soccer club slated to play in the stadium his company has agreed to build at McKalla Place.

“We are 100 percent privately funding a $242 million stadium. If Senate Bill 1771 were to pass, our funding mechanism and funding obligation with our lender would be imperiled, on top of millions of dollars of economic impact and thousands of jobs being put at risk,” Greeley said.

Austin’s lease agreement with Precourt does not allow Travis County, Austin Independent School District or other local taxing entities to tax the property. The bill would require those entities to approve the arrangement.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, sponsored the bill at the behest of former county auditor Susan Spataro. Bettencourt, who chairs the committee, told his colleagues he was introducing the bill because it was not good public policy to allow one jurisdiction to dictate whether another jurisdiction could collect taxes.

As the bill is currently written, it does not apply to any property built by January 1 of this year. Greeley told the committee his company would not object to the bill if it excluded the Austin FC stadium. Bettencourt asked him when the McKalla Place stadium would be completed and Greeley said it would be done in the spring of 2021.

Spataro, former County Judge Bill Aleshire, Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, and Pct. 3 Constable Stacy Suits all testified in favor of the bill, and Commissioner Margaret Gómez provided written testimony favoring the bill.

Gómez wrote, “Because we rely primarily on property taxes to fund our mandates, I believe all exemptions of county property taxes need to be posted on the Commissioners Court agenda, carefully scrutinized by the Commissioners Court and voted upon in an open meeting. Allowing the cities to be able to exempt county taxes ignores the fact that there are county residents who do not live in the city and therefore have no voice when tax decisions are made by the city.”

James Quintero of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an ultra-conservative think tank, told the committee he would like the bill to be amended so that the city of Austin would have to pay taxes to Hays County on all the land it has bought there. Austin has purchased thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive property to protect the water quality of Barton Springs and the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

Mike Rollins, president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and Luis Rodriguez, president of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, urged committee members to reject the bill. Rollins said McKalla Place has been municipally owned land that is not generating any taxes for any jurisdiction. But it will now provide a public benefit with a stadium. “Texas has prided itself as being a business-friendly state. We try to uphold that here at the local level.” He pointed out that several years ago, Austinites voted on a petition to undo an economic development agreement the city had made with the developers of the Domain.

Two other citizens testified against the bill: Zach Webb, a soccer fan, and Jack Archer, vice president of Austin Commercial, the construction manager for the stadium.

A spokeswoman in Bettencourt’s office confirmed that there was no vote on the bill Tuesday. The committee is scheduled to meet again next Tuesday, but the chairman could call a meeting before that.

Photo by Cesar Garza made available through a Creative Commons license.

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