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SALEM- An effort to publish state subsidies on the Oregon Transparency website swept through the Senate Tuesday with a unanimous vote from members.
The bipartisan bill, which also passed unanimously in the House, would require agencies to submit databases they have on economic development subsidy programs which would be published to the website.
“We saw that there was hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks going out the door every year to businesses in the name of economic development and there was no real way of accounting for the success of that,” said Jon Bartholomew, advocate for the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group.
Bartholomew helped bring the proposal about this session after seeing what he called “wasted” use of taxpayer money with some tax breaks going to out-of-state businesses and other businesses breaking into smaller ones to get multiple tax credits.
Bartholomew said he spent a lot of time working with legislators from both parties and talking with businesses that actually use the subsidies.
“They [businesses] want more transparency of these things too,” he said. “They feel like the program is hurt when one bad apple spoils the program.”
Support from lawmakers, Bartholomew said, was garnished by a common desire for accountability.
“We want to make sure that our money is used the most effectively it can be and to do that you need accountability,” he said. “And transparency gives you accountability.”
The proposal drew some concerns from business lobbyists when it was first introduced.
But Bartholomew said he worked with the lobbyists to address industry concerns.
Jim Craven, one of the lobbyists who originally testified against the bill, said his concern was that before the bill was changed, it would have had agencies applying analyses to the subsidy programs as well as wanting some changes in its language.
After sitting down with legislators though, Craven was able to secure the fixes he desired.
The bill’s sponsors agreed with Craven since the changes didn’t affect its intent.
“The business community supports transparency,” said Craven. “If additional transparency doesn’t prove that these programs are worthwhile, than maybe somebody should do something about it.”
After expressing his concerns in the House committee, Craven went on to testify with Bartholomew in favor of the measure in the Senate.
“We had concerns and those concerns got addressed,” he said.
Since the transparency bill passed both houses, it will now move on to the governor for final approval.
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