Tulsa Taxpayers Upset After Company Receiving State Rebate Shuts Down

Monday, April 11th 2011, 9:37 pm
By: News On 6

Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A major media company pulls up stakes, after cashing in on hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax incentives.

Gannett is walking away from Tulsa with $260,000 worth of tax rebates in its pocket. Now some taxpayers are wondering whether companies that close up shop owe the state a rebate refund.

After months of wooing, Gannett made Tulsa part of its media family back in 2007.  The company promised to add another 500 call center jobs to Tulsa's economy. In return, the state gave them a break on their payroll taxes.

Four years and $260,000 later, the media giant has turned out the lights.

2/17/2011 Related Story: Sources: Gannett Call Center In Tulsa To Close

"Really, the state gave Gannett nothing," Mike Neal said.

Mike Neal with the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce says taxpayers didn't really lose a dime.

Gannett was part of Oklahoma's Quality Jobs Incentive Program. Companies get part of their taxes back, but only after they've hired the workers.

"These people had jobs, paid taxes, and they, in return, have got a little bit of that tax returned to them for coming to the state of Oklahoma." Neal said.

Oklahoma paid out $54 million in Quality Jobs incentives last year.

"I personally am not a huge fan of incentives," Neal said. "The chamber is not a huge fan of incentives, but unfortunately we have to have them. We have to have them to compete."

Neal says "back end" incentives like Quality Jobs aren't enough. He says neighboring states have "deal closing funds" and they're offering companies cash up front, before they hire a single worker.

"We've lost a significant number of deals to Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas as a result that we don't have a deal closing fund," he said.

House Bill 1953 would create a closing fund in the state to help lure companies, but it would include a "claw back" provision that would allow the state to recoup the money if the company doesn't meet performance goals. That bill is headed to the State Senate.