The public deserves to know whether tax subsidies are actually creating jobs

By Celeste Meiffren of Portland, Oregon. Celeste is a consumer and taxpayer advocate with OSPIRG. Previously, Celeste contributed "Department of Justice orders release of hidden tax subsidy data"

Would you ever pay someone to fix your roof and then never check and make sure that he actually did the job you hired him to do? Of course not. But what if you weren't given a chance to?

Every biennium, Oregon taxpayers are forking over hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development tax subsidies, but in most cases are never shown their return on investment. A new study released today by OSPIRG Foundation examined the reports made available on Oregon's transparency website as a result of a two-year old transparency law, and found that only a fraction of economic development subsidy programs covered by the law provide a report for public review.

The study, Revealing Tax Subsidies, finds that of the eighteen programs covered by the 2011 transparency law, only six have reports available for public scrutiny on the Oregon transparency website. State agencies did not provide reports for twelve of the eighteen programs covered by the law, despite evidence that information is available for some of the programs.

Of the six reports made available on Oregon's transparency website, four programs fully disclose the amount of the tax subsidy to each recipient, and only one — The Film Production Labor Rebate — provides both required and actual outcomes.

It is good to see some information coming out about a handful of tax subsidy programs, but since all but one of the reports have incomplete information, it remains difficult for the public to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs.

Governor Kitzhaber should work with his agencies to do a better job of showing the public whether companies that get state or local tax incentives in exchange for jobs or other economic growth are doing just that. This would hardwire transparency and accountability into Oregon's approach to tax subsidies and ensure the public is never kept in the dark again.

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