August 24, 2011

‘Taxpayer-Backed Investment’ Examined

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers on Wednesday were critical of a program designed to attract jobs and resources to the state using tax credits.

Devon L. Sauzek, president of the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board, found himself in the hot seat when he appeared before the Task Force on State Tax Credits and Economic Incentives.

The Oklahoma Capital Investment Board is a public trust that leverages tax credits to raise money for investments. It tries to attract jobs and resources to Oklahoma.

It is governed by a five-member board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Some lawmakers said the trust invests too much money in out-of-state firms, doesn’t create enough jobs in Oklahoma and is not transparent.

The board has access to up to $100 million in tax credits.

The panel is studying tax credits and exemptions in an effort to determine which ones are effective and which ones need to be eliminated.

It held its third meeting Wednesday in the House Chamber.

“Today’s concern was this taxpayer-backed investment,” said Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa.

He said the vast majority of the board’s investments support out-of-state businesses for job creation and economic growth. Out of every dollar, 85 cents to 90 cents is going out of state, Adelson said.

“I am not opposed to the model,” Adelson said. “The model and execution are just too costly for the state.”

Rep. David Dank, chairman of the task force, said the panel is concerned that the tax credits are being used by out-of-state businesses when they were created to bring jobs to Oklahoma.

“I think we’re finding out that there are too many dollars that are being invested in companies and corporations outside of the state borders,” said Dank, R-Oklahoma City.

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, criticized the board for failing to provide information to lawmakers.

Sauzek said some of the information requested by lawmakers is proprietary and could put companies at a competitive disadvantage if it were disclosed.

Reynolds said the board’s investments have created far fewer jobs than what the trust claims.

Sauzek said the board is meeting its statutory obligations regarding investments, adding that its investments have resulted in thousands of Oklahoma jobs.

Sauzek sought to have the tax credits extended to 2030. The tax credits sunset in 2015.

“At the end of the day, our goal and mission is to build the risk capital industry and only do it in an efficient and effective manner for the state,” Sauzek said.

“If the state doesn’t, at the end of the day, believe it is a program that is accomplishing that, then it needs to be redesigned or something else put in place,” he said.

“We are confident and proud of the record we have in place.”

The next meeting of the task force is set for Sept. 7.