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Oregon has a dozen programs of giving tax breaks or subsidies to companies that pledge to create jobs. Are these programs working as intended? Are they worth whatever they cost?
Hard to tell, because the details of each, though not actually hidden, are hard for the public to get and compare. You have to know where to look and whom to ask, and then it often takes a while to get the information. It also usually takes a fee.
The programs range from the more or less familiar “enterprise zone” to the “rural renewable energy development zone,” from the “film production labor rebate” to the “small city business development credit,” and from the “qualified research activities credit” to the “business energy tax credit.”
The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group has an idea on this. It is proposing legislation that would require information about new applications under these programs to be included on Oregon’s transparency website starting next year.
Ideally, all such programs across the entire country would be abolished at the same time. It never seems quite fair that somebody who has been employing a steady number of people in Oregon for 50 years pays taxes just like he’s a nobody, but a newcomer promising investments can qualify for a break even though he might compete with established employers.
Without special deals in a bid to attract companies and create new jobs, everybody in the country would be on an even playing field when it comes to business or industrial development.
But this is probably not going to happen. So the best that politicians and leaders can hope for is to have clear information about who’s getting a break in return for what promises and, more important, are the promises being fulfilled?
Last year, everybody was surprised how one of those programs — tax breaks for energy facilities that never got off the ground — had gotten out of hand. With information about such programs readily available to everyone, legislators might have been encouraged to pull the plug sooner than they did.
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