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Austin Council Hears Proposal On Visa Incentives, Sets Public Hearing

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 09:47 PM CDT

Public money to create hundreds of private jobs: that’s one issue before the Austin City Council during a special meeting called Wednesday. City staff outlined the 10-year, $1.5 million incentives deal for Visa to bring nearly 800 jobs with an average salary of $113,351 per year to town. The state has already approved $8 million to help open the IT office in Northwest Austin, near Hwy 183 and Oak Knoll Drive.

"A net positive gain to the city of $6.8 million dollars," said Kevin Johns, Austin Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Director, of the plan’s projected 10-year impact.

That’s the city’s sell behind the proposed incentive plan to bring Visa to the Northwest Austin office park. But why should taxpayers foot the bill to bring a company to an area that’s already seeing heavy growth?

“I think that presupposes that the economy is at full employment and that everything is really great in America right now,” said Johns. “We're not at that point yet. There's still tens of thousands of people that are not employed. The demand on social services is still very great in Austin."

"What they (incentives) are is corporate welfare for some businesses that current Austin businesses and taxpayers will be paying for," said Peggy Venable, Texas Director for Americans for Prosperity.

Several speakers at Wednesday’s special council meeting agreed.

"We don't need our taxpayers subsidizing rich global corporations,” said Dr. Laura Pressley. “This is a sad day that we're even thinking about this."

"What about small business?" asked Clay Dafoe.

Speakers also worried about future affordability of Austin and the fact that the Round Rock Independent School District would be receiving taxes from the property instead of the Austin Independent School District.

Johns says Visa must make their “best effort” to make 70 percent of the jobs local. To make that opportunity a reality, officials insist they have to spend money to make money in what they call a “very competitive situation”, as Visa is also looking at Colorado and the Washington, D.C. area as potential sites.

As for the incentives in those regions: “Their directors of economic development won't tell us," said Johns, who added Austin must make their best guess on how much they can afford to give in incentives and turn a profit.

"What does it cost for police service, fire service, et cetera," he said, of the factors considered.

Johns said Visa will only get paid each year if they keep their promises, which also includes renovating 175,000 square feet of space in the Northwest Austin office park and investing more than $27 million.

The council voted Wednesday to set the public hearing for Thursday, December 6, at 4 p.m. during their regularly scheduled meeting.

We were told at the meeting that Visa had no comment. KEYE TV contacted their corporate office afterwards but has yet to hear back.

By Adam BennettAustin Council Hears Proposal On Visa Incentives, Sets Public Hearing


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