Oklahoma employees of Goodyear, Hitachi and 15 other firms are contributing part of their paychecks to help pay for plant expansions and equipment purchases costing more than $89 million, an Oklahoma Watch investigation shows.
In many cases, they probably don’t even know it.
It’s all perfectly legal, and it doesn’t wind up costing employees anything. But the diversions, which involve transfers of state income-tax withholding payments by employees to the companies, are reducing state tax collections at a time when the state faces significant budget constraints. A new law that takes effect next year mandates closer scrutiny of business incentives.
“The companies are getting a really sweet deal here,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C., research group. “The state of Oklahoma, with plummeting oil revenues, needs the money worse than these companies.”
The program’s defenders are just as adamant that it has preserved existing jobs and created new ones, in some instances at least.
“In several of the cases I’ve worked on, I firmly believe it was a key determining factor,” said Oklahoma Finance Authorities President Michael Davis, who arranges debt transactions to finance the deals. “Incentives are a little bit like a nuclear arms race. We can’t afford not to do it.”
Davis and other program supporters said they couldn’t state with certainty that in each case, the company would not have done the project if the state had not provided the incentive.
The withholding diversions were authorized by Oklahoma Community Economic Development Pooled Finance Act of 2009.