Porterie: Motiva comes up short for schools
By Mark Porterie
Special to The News
Are we selling our kids future with each truckload of crude oil that travels outside our community every day?
We, as a community, have welcomed the petrochemical industry to our community. In January, I participated in a video for the Martin Luther King Brunch, where several of us acknowledged the importance of having the petrochemical industry within our community for so many years, and its contributions to the community.
The existence of the petrochemical industry has afforded many families to have comfortable lifestyles, and thousands of us have had parents who were employed by the industry, which helped to finance our education. For the most part, we have determined that the benefits of the jobs that this industry provides outweighed the dangers to our health and environment.
One of our neighbors, Motiva Enterprises, owned by Saudi Aramco Oil, has made several recent public announcements. On Jan. 22, Motiva donated $650,000 to the Port Arthur ISD to assist with Hurricane Harvey destruction. We thank them and appreciate the contribution. On April 3, the local news announced that Motiva was in negotiation to purchase two buildings in downtown Port Arthur. I applaud them for the investment in our community.
Just prior to the news report, on April 2, 2019, the Beaumont Enterprise published an Associated Press article entitled “Rare glimpse into Saudi Aramco shows $111 billion new net profit for 2018.” The article stated this new profit places Aramco ahead of some of the world’s most profitable firms.
Moody’s said the oil giant’s revenue hit $355.9 billion last year and that it produced 10.3 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2018. Motiva has made great financial accomplishments and set an aggressive visionary plan for the company’s continued growth and success.
However, I feel that Motiva has breached the social contract that companies like Motiva made with this community so long ago. My job as superintendent of Port Arthur Independent School District is to set an aggressive visionary plan for the district, its employees, patrons and not least of all its over 8,000 students. I have sat and talked with some of the leaders of our community who remember how the chemical industry felt that it was their responsibility to make sure the public-school system had everything it needed to ensure success for its students.
Before the record profits seen by Motiva/Saudi Aramco, money was not an object to the petrochemical industry in our community. Today, I do not feel the major companies in our community feel the same as their previous leaders and CEOs.
Motiva/Saudi Aramco, while experiencing record profits and formulating plans to expand the facility located in our community to the largest refinery in this nation, has chosen to withhold taxes due to the school district. This is a school district that has recently been affected by one of the most devastating hurricanes of this century. A school district that was already struggling to keep its head above water, while restoring buildings and normalcy after Harvey.
Motiva has a legal right to access an obscure law that allows property owners to fight appraisal values if they can show that comparable properties are appraised at lower values. This law created an — I hope — unintended loophole for the owners of large industrial and commercial properties. In essence, it gives an opportunity for large businesses not to pay their fair share of taxes.
In 2017, each homeowner paid about 2.66% of the value of their homestead in yearly taxes. In 2017, Motiva/Saudi Aramco paid only .8% of the value of its refinery as taxes; now they are seeking to pay even less on its values for 2018.
In the past, the Port Arthur Independent School District has been forced to repay over $30 million due to this law. Presently we are awaiting the outcome of the latest lawsuit filed by Motiva/Saudi Aramco, the largest chemical plant in North America. Currently Motiva has chosen to withhold 58% of the taxes it owes for the 2018 year.
I am not unappreciative of the assistance that Motiva and the other chemical companies have given to the school district. However, our celebration of the donation we recently received was almost immediately diminished by learning that our district has been negatively impacted by about $24 million in just one year. Motiva/Saudi Aramco’s decision to withhold this money jeopardizes the district’s promise to its citizens not to raise taxes.
The question to which I have been unable to receive an answer is, “Why have the companies in our community, which happen to be some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world, chosen to utilize a law that would negatively affect the education of children who are already struggling?”
Let me be clear in saying I do not totally blame the companies that take advantage of the law; I also blame the legislators that allowed the law to pass and year after year do nothing to change the law.
If the school system that is responsible for the education of more than 8,000 children, 85% of whom are recipients of free and reduced lunch, does not have the funds to properly educate the children in this community, in which these multi-billion-dollar industries operate, it will crumble!
Ask the question
I ask concerned citizens and parents to help me ask the question of this company. We should understand why a company that earned $111 billion dollars in net profit in one year is trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Now, I want you to understand that our budgets are set, and someone will have to pay for the education of our children. That someone will be the CITIZENS OF PORT ARTHUR! It pains me to think that if I were not the superintendent of PAISD that I may not care about how the lack of tax payments affects our school system.
The school district entered into a 10-year Chapter 313 tax incentive agreement for Motiva. In 2018 the Chapter 313 agreement expired, which required Motiva to pay PAISD taxes in full. The other entities such as the port, navigation, county and drainage district are not as affected by the lawsuit due to the abatement/tax incentive given to Motiva is still in effect.
Once again, I want to be clear when I say that I am happy that we are surrounded by the petrochemical industry and I am excited about the possibility of what the expansions of these refineries hold for the city of Port Arthur, but please allow me to pose the question, “If we have these billion dollar companies surrounding us, why does our city look like a war zone?” Do you not find it disturbing that everyone in other cities and countries are profiting from the expansions, while Port Arthur bears the environmental and health costs, alone?
I was driving down Lake Arthur Drive and came across an apartment complex under construction. I wondered if those apartments will house the thousands of contractors who will come from other communities to help build the expansions? Hotels, contractors and people we have never seen before are all making a profit from the expansions, but we as a school district cannot even get the taxes from the companies that are “OUR GOOD NEIGHBORS”!
Ask yourselves why do you think companies choose not to pay their fair taxes in the city of Port Arthur. Why do we have to always accept what is offered to us even when we know the “morsels” we receive are just to keep us quiet? Yes, the companies are cordial and ask our community what we think, and we respond with what we feel they want to hear. But don’t you think it is time to step up to the plate and ask Motiva/Saudi Aramco, “Why are you prospering so much and so fast and I stand in the same poor condition year after year?” By no means am I asking for a handout. I just want what is due to our district and our community because it is fair. The opportunity to speak on behalf of our school district and city may never come again. Citizens of Port Arthur must wake up and stand for something. Stand for your children and their future. Stand for the future of Port Arthur, you may never have the opportunity again!
Reach out on social media and direct communication to Motiva/Saudi Aramco, our county and city officials and ask, “WHY?”
Mark Porterie is superintendent of PAISD.
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