Rhode Island and Oklahoma Make Headlines for Making Recipients of Corporate Tax Breaks Accountable

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The Rhode Island Department of Revenue recently released its second annual "Tax Credit and Incentive Report," providing the names, addresses, and size of tax breaks received by Rhode Island businesses under six major tax incentive programs.  This report provides a valuable, and unusually detailed look at where over $82 million in state tax subsidies went during the 2009 fiscal year.  CVS, for example, benefited from over $12 million in special tax subsidies over a twelve month period, while the producers of the "Brotherhood" TV series raked in more than $5 million.  More states would benefit by sharing this type of information with their residents.

But while the "Tax Credit and Incentive Report" does provide a valuable source of raw data for Rhode Island residents and policymakers, the Department of Revenue has regrettably dragged its feet in implementing Phases Two and Three of Rhode Island's broader tax incentive accountability program.  Phase Two, which was supposed to have been completed in October 2008, will eventually detail the degree to which state tax incentives have met the job creation, wage, and benefit objectives for which they were created.  The Rhode Island Poverty Institute has rightly pointed out that "it is impossible to judge the usefulness of these tax credits without the information required in Phase Two of the law." 

Phase Three, which also has yet to be implemented, will require adding the tax credit information released by the Department of Revenue to the state's budget, so that these programs can be considered on a more equal footing with traditional spending programs and subsidies.

Oklahoma also recently made some headlines related to its tax incentive programs.  Last spring, the Oklahoma legislature approved new investment tax credits as a means of attracting Mercury Marine, a boat engine manufacturer, to the state.  Recently, Mercury Marine announced that despite the tax credits, it will be moving a significant number of jobs from Oklahoma to Wisconsin.  Since the legislation authorizing the tax credits explicitly allowed for the state to recover those credits in the event that something along these lines occurred prior to 2012, the company has agreed to refund the credits, with interest.  By tying the credits to some measure of performance on the part of Mercury Marine, Oklahoma was able to avoid a situation where the company could simply take the credits and run. 

Be sure to visit Good Jobs First for more on tax incentive best practices such as these.


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