State senator calls for probe into Texas investments in Russian Federation as state braces for windfall oil and gas revenue
DALLAS — If the State of Texas has invested money in the Russian Federation, Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt wants it all. Yesterday.
“We need to investigate because, quite frankly, any money in the Russian Federation is a dollar too many right now,” the Republican said on the latest episode of Y’all-ictics. “We shouldn’t invest there. This is the wrong place for taxpayers because of the risk, and the human rights abuses are staggering given this unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Senator Bettencourt sent a letter to the Lieutenant Governor asking him to form a Senate committee to investigate possible investments in the Russian Federation through state pension funds, the teachers’ retirement system and potentially universities. The Republican says he has a bipartisan slate of fellow senators ready to sign. And this list is likely to grow.
“You know what the moral is, the right thing to do? Frankly, it’s about stopping doing business with the Russian Federation. We just have to draw a clear line here because we just can’t, you know, trade with people who could start a war like this,” the senator said, snapping his fingers.
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For perspective, Bettencourt says Texas has about $9 billion invested in China. He doesn’t think we’d have that much trouble in the Russian Federation, but he’s adamant we need to know exactly how many and the investigation could possibly extend to all high-risk investments overseas.
The reverse, of course, it’s all the money flowing in Texas right now because of rising energy prices, which were skyrocketing even before Russia invaded Ukraine.
On March 1, 2022, crude oil was trading above $100 a barrel, even as the United States and its allies released 60 million barrels of oil from their reserves due to rising prices. If prices continue at this level, it will generate windfall revenues for the state.
RELATED: Texas oil and gas industry sees ‘unintended’ boost from Russian invasion of Ukraine
“It looks like the State of Texas and the taxpayers are going to be the big winners because, well, there’s going to be more revenue going to funding highways, which we all need more of in the State of Texas based on our population growth and to also fund our school systems across the state,” said Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association.
Natural gas prices also continue to climb. The United States is the largest gas producer in the world and Texas is the largest gas producing state in the country. Staples says the natural gas industry paid nearly $16 billion in state and local taxes and state royalties in 2021 alone. What if Russia cuts its energy supply to Europe and our allies turn to America to increase supply, Staples says we have the infrastructure and the port capacity to do that, we just need time.
“We have the ability to do that. But because of the supply chain issues that we’ve all been dealing with in our homes for the past few days, and going to grocery stores and those shelves that aren’t stocked like we normally see, it’s going to limit our ability to respond immediately,” Staples said.
In the meantime, decisions loom as to where all the surplus should be spent. Bettencourt says the record surplus could exceed double-digit billions. The state constitution earmarks a portion of those dollars for transportation needs. Otherwise, he thinks some of the money should go back to the Texans, including one of his pet projects, lowering property taxes. He introduced Senate Bill 1 in the third special session last summer. And the Republican says that would be a good place to start.
“Basically it was saying if you have a general revenue surplus, you cut it in half, put half into school property tax cuts, and then the other half is used for whatever purpose,” the senator said.