OK Legislature Still Hoping Tax Incentive Panel Can Help Solve Budget Crisis

Tuesday, January 26th 2016, 4:30 pm

Last year, when the Oklahoma State Legislature was facing a $600-million shortfall, a panel was established to look into the state’s tax incentive program and suggest cuts.

That panel was supposed to meet Jan. 1 to list the programs it was supposed to review. But as of today, and with the state facing an estimated $1-billion budget gap, all of the panel members still haven’t been chosen.

The 8-member panel was supposed to identify subsidies that aren’t paying off for the state.

“There are a lot of credits and subsidies and all this stuff that are there and we’ve never bothered to see whether this one pays off or this one doesn’t.” said the governor’s spokesman, Jay Marks.

The governor’s office still hasn’t chosen its representative. Marks says the problem is the governor’s office was given certain guidelines it has to meet, and can’t. For example, the panel member has to be an internal auditor who works for a firm that has not gotten any state subsidies or incentives. 

“Finding someone who is working and is not in a position that their employer has not received incentives, which are pretty wide ranging, is a very small pool of candidates for us,” Marks said. 

“So if there are so many recipients of these incentives, isn’t that an indication that these incentives are too widespread?” asked News 9 reporter Aaron Brilbeck. 

“That’s why we’re studying this.” Marks said.

And this is really the first time that the state has studied the incentive program to see what works and what doesn’t, even though many of the incentives have been in place for decades.

“Legislators have been operating blind,” said John Estus of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. “We feel bad for them, those of us in the State Budget Office that have had to make those decisions without good information in their hands.”

Lawmakers hope once they have that good information they can decide what to cut. 

“We want to figure out the right places to eliminate incentives.” Marks said. “We don’t want to just cut things that could be beneficial to the state. Some of them pay off and some don’t.”