Salem– Critical details for over $665 million in economic development tax subsidies are still mostly out of reach for Oregonians. A new study released today by OSPIRG Foundation examined the reports made available on Oregon’s transparency website as a result of a two-year old transparency law, and found that only a small fraction of economic development subsidy programs covered by the law provide a report for public review.
“Oregon taxpayers are forking over hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development tax subsidies every biennium, but in most cases are not shown their return on investment,” said Celeste Meiffren, OSPIRG Foundation’s Consumer and Taxpayer Advocate and author of the study. “That’s like paying someone to fix your roof and never being able to check and make sure he actually did the job you hired him to do.”
Revealing Tax Subsidies finds that of the eighteen programs covered by the 2011 transparency law, only six have reports available for public scrutiny on the Oregon transparency website. State agencies did not provide reports for twelve of the eighteen programs covered by the law, despite evidence that information is available for some of the programs.
The study identified four main explanations for the lack of reporting:
1. Some state agencies appear to be misinterpreting the flexibility of the transparency law and fail to provide existing information.
2. Some state agencies appear to be incorrectly using the trade secrets provision of Oregon’s public records law to justify not disclosing information.
3. At least three programs have no information available because the state lacks any tracking and accountability systems for these programs.
4. Four programs are not required to submit the first report until the end of 2013
“In many cases, state agencies have the information requested by the transparency law, but there is still a lot of confusion about how the information should be presented and what information should be disclosed,” said Meiffren. “The unfortunate result of this confusion is that critical information remains shielded from public view.”
Of the six reports made available on the transparency website, four programs fully disclose the amount of the tax subsidy to each recipient, and only one—the Film Production Labor Rebate— provides both required and actual outcomes.
“We are glad that information is coming out about a handful of the tax subsidies,” said Meiffren. “But most of the reports have incomplete information, so it is still difficult for the public to evaluate their effectiveness.”
OSPIRG Foundation is calling on Governor Kitzhaber to work with his state agencies to address these deficiencies.
“Governor Kitzhaber should stand up for taxpayers by instructing his agencies to show the public whether companies that get state or local tax incentives in exchange for jobs or other economic growth are doing just that,” said Meiffren. “This would hardwire transparency and accountability into Oregon’s approach to tax subsidies and ensure the public is never kept in the dark again.”
To read the full report, go to: http://www.ospirgfoundation.org/reports/orf/revealing-tax-subsidies-2013
Oregon’s transparency website: http://www.oregon.gov/transparency/Pages/TaxExpenditures.aspx
For more information on economic development tax subsidies, go here: http://ospirg.org/resources/orp/brief-economic-development-tax-subsidies