Tax Hike Unfairly Targets Low-Income Texans While Letting Polluters Off the Hook

Tax Hike Unfairly Targets Low-Income Texans While Letting Polluters Off the Hook

Statement of Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D., Organizer, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

Note: Thomas spoke at a hearing on the tax hike at City Hall last night.

As the city of Houston struggles to fund the Harvey recovery effort, Mayor Sylvester Turner has called for Houstonians to fund the effort with a property tax. The unpopular proposal has already been reduced by “more than half” of its original 8.9 percent because, according to Mayor Turner, the federal government has agreed to pick up a larger portion of the recovery efforts than originally stated.

Still, this property tax hike would hit Houstonians at a time when they are hurting. Public Citizen believes the city of Houston should exhaust other options before raising people’s taxes. Federal and state resources should be tapped first. The state’s rainy day fund should be available to alleviate the burden on Harvey victims.

If the city levies a tax, it should levy a tax not on the victims of Harvey, but on industries that have contributed to the storm’s magnitude. Both the fossil fuel industry’s contribution to climate change and the unscrupulous practices of land developers worsened Harvey’s impacts on Texas. Ninety companies around the world, mostly from the fossil fuel industry, contributed 57 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and approximately 42 to 50 percent of the rise in global mean surface temperature between 1880 and 2010, according to a recent report in the journal Climate Change.  Many of these companies have offices in Houston.

According to Dr. Kevin Trenberth with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm. It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway—but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”

Fossil fuel companies have shirked their responsibility for climate change for too long, with some aware for at least 40 years of the role their industry has played.

Fossil fuel companies have made climate change worse, and they have known for decades that they were doing it. Now Houstonians have suffered the impacts of climate change, and taxpayers are being asked to cover the tab. We’ve already subsidized the industry to the tune of billions. Isn’t it time climate polluters pay their fair share?

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