DALLAS — If the state of Texas has any money invested in the Russian Federation, Texas State Sen. Paul Bettencourt wants it all out. Yesterday.
“We need to investigate it because, quite frankly, any money in the Russian Federation is one dollar too many right now,” the Republican said on the latest episode of Y’all-itics. “We shouldn't be investing there. It's not the right taxpayer location because of the risk, and the human rights violations are staggering given this unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine.”
Sen. Bettencourt sent a letter to the lieutenant governor asking him to form a Senate Committee to investigate possible investments into the Russian Federation through state pension funds, the teacher retirement system and potentially through universities. The Republican says he has a bipartisan list of fellow Senators ready to sign on. And that list is likely to grow.
“You know what's the moral, right thing to do? Quite frankly, it's to stop doing business with the Russian Federation. We've just got to draw a bright line here because we just simply can't be, you know, trading with people that could start a war like that,” said the Senator with a snap of his fingers.
Listen to this week's episode of Y'all-itics.
For perspective, Bettencourt says Texas has around $9 Billion invested in China. He doesn’t think we’d have that much tied up in the Russian Federation, but he’s adamant we need to find out exactly how much and the investigation could eventually extend into any and all high-risk investments overseas.
The reverse of this, of course, is all of the money flowing into Texas right now because of higher energy prices, which were skyrocketing even before Russia invaded Ukraine.
On March 1, 2022, crude oil was trading above $100/barrel, even as the United States and its allies released 60 million barrels of oil from their reserves because of the rising prices. If prices continue at this level, it will generate windfall revenue for the state.
“It looks like the state of Texas and taxpayers are going to be big winners because, well, there will be more revenues that will go into funding highways, which we all need more of in the state of Texas based on our population growth and to fund our school systems across the state as well,” said Todd Staples, the president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association.
Natural gas prices also continue to surge. The U.S. is the world’s biggest gas producer, and Texas is the country’s biggest gas-producing state. Staples says the natural gas industry paid nearly $16 billion in state and local taxes and state royalties in 2021 alone. And if Russia cuts off its energy supply to Europe, and our allies turn to America to increase supply, Staples says we have the infrastructure and port capacity to do it, we just need some time.
“We do have the capacity to do it. But because of the supply chain issues that we've all been facing in our homes the last few days, and going to grocery stores and those shelves not being stocked full like we normally see, that is going to limit our ability to respond immediately,” Staples said.
In the meantime, decisions are looming on where all of the surplus should be spent. Bettencourt says the record surplus could exceed double digit billions. The state constitution earmarks some of those dollars for transportation needs. Otherwise, he thinks some of the money should go back to Texans, including one of his pet projects, lowering property taxes. He introduced Senate Bill 1 during the third special session last summer. And the Republican says that would be a great place to start.
“Basically, it said if you've got a surplus general revenue, you cut it in half, put half into buying down school property taxes and then the other half is used for whatever purposes,” said the Senator.