The Houston City Council, in its role as a tax agency, has voted unanimously to extend a tax break to a billionaire businessman for the second time. Now, city officials are on the defensive, trying to explain to angry Texas residents why his company, which failed to honor a previous commitment, has gotten a second chance.
Ten years ago, Houston officials voted to forgive the business from some property taxes in order to encourage it to build an inn. The tax break came after the business promised to bring in 125 jobs. When it didn’t, the city sent a tax bill for about $140,000.
In its most recent action, however, the city voted to throw out the bill. Under the deal, the company instead will tear down a city-owned property. City officials said it would have cost about $500,000 to destroy the building because it is laden with asbestos and has an underground storage tank.
One councilman said the building wasn’t worth anything and that by tearing it down, the land beneath it can be used to rebuild something of value. Another said the deal can help to lead to the redevelopment of the area.
The chief development officer for Houston said the billionaire and his company were not treated specially. Instead, he said, his previous work with the city showed officials he would make improvements if the tax were rescinded.
But it could be hard for the average Texan to not feel like the rich and powerful get special treatment, while regular folks are left to pay tax bills that are sometimes much too large. A good attorney could help level the playing field.
Source: Houston Chronicle, “A tax break so nice, the city gave it twice,” Chris Moran, July 3, 2012