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Willamette Week
Nigel Jaquiss

Approving tax credits is a little bit like continuing to drink after you know you've had enough—it seems like a good idea at the time but can be hard to justify in the cold light of sobriety.

OSPIRG (the Oregon Public Interest Research Group) took a look at (sic) four tax-credit programs lawmakers have green-lighted in recent years and that will cost taxpayers $300 million in 2011-13. 

Below is a summary of what the credits yielded, according to OSPIRG's report. "BETC" refers to the Business Energy Tax Credit.

OSPIRG Foundation found that the available information is insufficient for taxpayers to evaluate the value of corporate tax subsidies. Gaps in the reports included: 

· Amount of each subsidy: Only two of the four subsidy programs fully disclosed the amount of tax subsidies to particular recipients. Oregon Investment Advantage, projected to cost taxpayers $3.8 million in the current biennium, is one of the programs that did not report this information. 

· Required outcomes: None of the four programs disclosed both a required and actual outcome for each corporation receiving a tax subsidy. One program, the Film Production Development Contribution, reported neither. And while the BETC program reported a required outcome for most recipients, it listed no outcome for 28 recipients who received $20.9 million in credits. 

· Rationale for granting the subsidy: None of the four programs reported a complete methodology to justify their decision to grant a subsidy. For example, the BETC program reported considerable variation in the dollars invested for each unit of energy created or saved. The program reported that the credit to Portland General Electric cost taxpayers $0.30 per unit of energy, while the credit to Groundwater Solar cost taxpayers $1,088 per energy unit, or 3600 times more expensive on a cost per unit basis. No explanation was provided for the variation. 

· All of the above: At least one enterprise zone tax subsidy program failed to report because the program lacks any mechanism to track these pieces of information.

“We are glad that some information is starting to come out about these tax subsidies,” said OSPIRG Foundation Executive Director David Rosenfeld in a statement. “But more is needed before taxpayers can evaluate whether they are getting their money’s worth.”

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