House Democrats press for limits on tax credits

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 05-May-2010

Several Democrats in the state House of Representatives held a noon hour press conference today (Wednesday, May 5) to say they oppose public education budget cuts that could “hurt Oklahoma children.” The group also renewed demands to trim or, in some cases, eliminate tax credits and other mechanisms that lower state taxes.

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Democratic House Leader-designate Scott Inman said, “I have had candid discussions with members of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce because I want them to understand we are not attacking all tax credits.” He continued, explaining part of the group’s emphasis: “We are, however, focused on sham or shell ‘LLCs’ and businesses that simply engage in the sale of credits out of state.”

In a follow-up, CapitolBeatOK asked Inman if he had discussed tax credit issues with state Rep. David Dank, an Oklahoma City Republican who has long advocated a detailed examination of the state’s use of tax credits, and elimination of those found ineffective or abusive in practice. Inman, who represents much of southeast Oklahoma County, responded, “I have communicated with Rep. Dank. I just wish we could get his leadership to treat this issue seriously.”

Despite strong language against abusive use of tax credits, the group of about two dozen legislators were reluctant to specify what tax credits or — as some term them “tax expenditures” — should be eliminated or reduced. Rep. Inman said, “Yesterday, we were pleased to hear the school superintendents serving on the Oklahoma Schools Advisory Council echo our suggestions at their press conference here at the Capitol.”

Rep. Jerry McPeak of Warner, who facilitated the council’s event, participated in today’s briefing, which was led by Reps. Inman, Cory Williams of Stillwater and Jeannie McDaniel of Tulsa.

Inman and his colleagues were critical of Republican leaders for not making the statutory deadline for completion of a state budget. Rep. Williams asserted, “We have just completed a school year during which our public schools had to endure cuts of 3 to 7 percent, and right now, the only information they have for planning purposes is that additional cuts of 10 percent are possible. That would equate to a loss of $244 million.”

Williams, whose Stillwater-area district includes Oklahoma State University, continued, “Our public colleges and universities are also in peril of suffering cuts that could reduce the quality and value of degrees earned at those schools, which in turn diminishes their ability to attract new students to the state or to retain the ones that grew up here.”

Rep. McDaniel, for her part, focused on issues other than education. She said, “With the currently proposed budget cuts, child protective services are facing the loss of millions of dollars in funding resulting in increased strain on an already overburdened workforce.” McDaniel expressed concern over cuts that could affect foster care and child support collection programs.

Inman, in his prepared statement, noted Republicans have outlined “about $31 million worth of savings. To use a football analogy, Republicans have merely advanced the ball to the 30 yard line. They’ve got 70 yards to go to make this a real solution to a very real problem.”

Democrats say a 10 percent cut or moratorium on selected credits could result in savings of $200-500 million.