Williamson County, one of the fastest-growing counties in America, just approved a major tax incentive deal for Apple, which announced last week that it will be setting up a campus in far northwest Austin.
In just 30 minutes, Williamson County commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the deal, which the county estimates could amount to about $16 million in reimbursements to Apple over the span of its 15-year term. Apple is also in line to get up to $25 million in incentives payments from the state-run Texas Enterprise Fund.
The incentive deal would rebate 65 percent of Apple’s annual property tax bill for 15 years. The agreement requires Apple to invest $400 million in the site over that time, as well as hire 4,000 workers by the deal’s 12th anniversary.
It’s hard to comment on the specifics of the deal, but I’m instinctively suspicious of a deal where the corporation’s only agreement is to make investments that they probably were going to make anyway. Plus, I have a hard time imagining that Williamson County really has the resources to hold Apple to its investment and hiring pledges. How does one investigate whether Apple truly hired 4,000 workers for the Austin campus and invested $400 million into the site? More likely than not Apple representatives will give a powerpoint presentation to the commissioner’s court a few years down the line claiming to have done all of these things, and the county will be happy.
As with every corporate subsidy, the question comes back to opportunity costs. Without Apple, would that land remain vacant? No, it eventually would have been developed into other residential and commercial projects.
Meanwhile, the influx of more well-paid tech people is hardly what our city desperately needs. I’m not arguing that their arrival is bad; there are plenty of local businesses that will benefit from their presence. But getting more tech jobs will not solve our greatest issues: housing and transportation.
Which is why I wish there was a public effort to get Apple to contribute meaningfully on those fronts, similar to the way we have made Anthony Precourt, the owner of the MLS team, pay for affordable housing and transit. Is Precourt probably getting a better deal than he would have if his business was subjected to normal property taxes? Probably. But at least we’re getting something long-term out of the deal, that will exist whether or not his business stays. We can’t say the same about Apple.
Let’s get Apple to pay for public transit to and from their site.