New Law Will Shed Light On Corporate Tax Breaks

Friday, November 23rd 2007, 1:03 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahomans will have an easier time discovering how their taxpayer money is used under a law that goes into effect on January 1st. A bill passed during this year's legislative session mandates the start of a tax-break and government spending disclosure Web site.

The state finance office is required to create and maintain a Web site that people can use to view how state money is spent.

``A lot of what we spend money on in the Legislature is hidden from the taxpayers,'' said Senator Randy Brogdon, principal Senate author of the measure. ``The taxpayers have no earthly idea more often than not where their money is being spent. As a state senator, it's very difficult for me to figure out exactly where the money's going.''

In a recent national report, the state scored well on information about procurement contracts, but received an average grade on lobbying information and got a zero on listing government tax breaks.

``One of the things we promote is more disclosure of these subsidies so that taxpayers know, in effect, how their money is being used,'' said Philip Mattera, research director and principal author of the report from Good Jobs First, a Washington-based policy resource organization.

``That's the area in which a lot of states, including Oklahoma, just haven't started putting anything online at all. Our report is only looking at information that's available on the Web.''

The Good Jobs First report puts a ``gold star'' on the measure approved this year by Oklahoma legislators, said Brogdon, R-Owasso.

``It's going to make a significant difference,'' he said. ``The more transparency we have when it comes to spending tax dollars, the better off everyone is. There is absolutely no reason to try and hide from the public what we do at the state Capitol when it comes to spending.''

Data on tax credits may not be available on the Web site for four to six months after the launch of the Web site, he said, because the state's fiscal year, from July 1 to June 30, doesn't run the same as the calendar year.

The State Chamber has expressed concern because information about tax credits will be available for inspection on the Web site, making it perhaps more difficult to attract people who want to invest in Oklahoma.

Mattera said he disagrees with that argument.

``We're not calling for disclosure of any proprietary company information,'' he said. ``All we're saying is that there needs to be some dollar figure given on the estimated value of the subsidies as well as information on how many jobs they expect to create and something on the quality of those jobs.''

Brogdon said the Web site will make legislators more cautious when spending taxpayer money.

``It may make the Legislature be a little bit more prudent in their decision-making,'' he said. ``It will probably make those who are standing in line with their hand out for taxpayer subsidies to think twice before they get in that line. ... Sunshine's the best disinfectant.''