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Willamette Week
Nigel Jaquiss

When the state is broke, people start paying more attention to tax breaks. Some of the biggest—such as the mortgage interest deduction for individuals— will never get touched. But others, such as the recently-ended tax break for buying a hybrid car, do occasionally end.

The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group has taken a look at all the state tax breaks and done two things: first, published a report examining 118 tax breaks that will result in $626 million in taxes not being collected.

“Tax subsidies are created with particular policy goals intended, but for the most part we can’t assess if those goals are being reached,” OSPIRG policy advocate Jon Bartholomew said in a statement. “If we spent $626 million in grants to help specific industries, there would be detailed analysis of how well the program is operating and who is benefiting. A tax subsidy can be a more efficient way to reach a policy goal, but we still need to know if it is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”

Second, OSPIRG has also taken the state’s PDF version of all tax breaks and put them into a searchable database.

That spreadsheet is more useful than the information the state releases. But it is difficult currently for OSPIRG or anybody else to find out exactly who benefits from each tax break and by how much, as Bartholomew noted in his statement.

“If we know that 35 corporations benefit from a particular tax subsidy, we note that. However, if we don’t know that number, or who benefits, or how big those corporations are, we note that as well,” he explained. “In doing so, we show just how little we know about these tax subsidies.”

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