House Speaker Kris Steele says study of tax credits and exemptions is serious, ongoing

In his regular weekly encounter with Capitol reporters, including CapitolBeatOK, Speaker of the House Kris Steele said the process of reviewing, analyzing and criticizing Oklahoma’s varied business incentives, including tax credits and exemptions aiming to boost economic development, is substantive and will continue. He expressed confidence in the Republican legislator he put in charge of the process. 

House Democrats have been critical of the Republican majority for not yet ending any particular credits or exemptions. In discussions with reporters this week, Minority Leader Scott Imman and others in his caucus have said ending some exemptions would fill in some or all of the remaining gaps in state spending.
On Thursday (April 7), Steele said, “Chairman [David] Dank  has been diligent in looking at tax credits, exemptions and the business incentives, and determining their effectiveness. He is studying the effectiveness of these credits and their purpose. We have a moratorium on most of the exemptions and credits and will take those off when appropriate, as was the case with the aerospace engineer incentives.” Dank runs the Revenue and Taxation Subcommittee in the House, and was tasked by Steele to examine the effectiveness of the incentives, credits and exemptions this session. 

The Shawnee Republican continued, “The moratorium will remain in effect until we have clear criteria for moving forward, or limiting them. The aerospace credit was determined by this body to have provided value to the state. It is clear that it has helped to create jobs and new opportunities for Oklahomans. It’s purpose in providing needed training was and is directly related to the Boeing announcement. We believe that added value, so the incentive has been restored.”
Concerning the budget process, Steele said he believes an early accord is possible. “The negotiations with the Senate are ongoing. We have a goal that protects as much as possible core services,” such as education funding, public safety and certain health-related expenditures, Steele said.
Steele used language similar to President Pro Tem Brian Bingman’s comment that “everything is still on the table,” in budget negotiations, including possible use of agency revolving funds to fill some budget gaps, where that is allowed. 

“Our appropriations chairmen in the House and Senate are still weighing all possible options,” Steele told reporters. In response to a question concerning the income tax rate reduction “trigger” for a further reduction in top rates, Steele clarified, “There is agreement among the governor, House and Senate to allow the income tax rate cut to go into effect.”
Sen. Bingman and Rep. Steele have indicated agency appropriations reductions of 5 to 7 percent might be needed to balance the state budget, as is required by law. Governor Mary Fallin has said she wants cuts to range from as low as 3% for comparatively protected agencies to as high as 5% for the rest of government. 

On another issue of interest, Speaker Steele said that the work product of the House Investigatory Committee  will be made available to the public “at the end of everything. All the information will be open.” However, Steele said, he did not know what the time frame for disclosure would be. 

The committee is studying the role of state Rep. Randy Terrill of Oklahoma City, a Republican facing criminal bribery charges in Oklahoma County . According to a sworn affidavit, earlier this session Terrill threatened bodily harm to Speaker Steele in the office of another Republican member of the House.