Oklahoma lawmaker deserves credit for willingness to scrutinize tax credits

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: October 23, 2012

THE Republican lawmaker who's on a mission to scrutinize Oklahoma's tax credits echoes the sentiments of the state's last Democratic attorney general in declaring that some credits are “constitutionally infirm.”

The term sounds like it's describing something in need of a nursing home or rehab center. Actually, the issue is in need of something more than an AG's opinion. It needs a legal judgment. Unlike legislation or opinions from attorneys general, court rulings have lasting impact. In the case of particular tax credits, a ruling could declare something as being legally dead.

State Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, has worked for months to make sure state tax credits are doing what they're supposed to do, and doing it in a legal fashion. His belief that some credits are legally “infirm” got a boost two years ago from Drew Edmondson, the attorney general at the time.

Dank's most valuable contribution in this area so far is calling attention to how soft the oversight of credits has been. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones believes credits should be subjected to regular audits — sort of like annual checkups for the physically infirm. Jones is on the right track. Millions of dollars are at stake.

Tax credits and other incentives are designed to stimulate activity, particularly the creation of jobs. But the system can be gamed if scrutiny is lacking. “You come up with these programs and people start looking at where's the loophole,” Jones said at a state House committee hearing last week. “You should audit them for compliance every year.”

Under the microscope now are tax credits taken by Bank of Oklahoma and two of its subsidiaries under a program that has since been discontinued. No accusations of illegality have been made in connection with the tax breaks. A BOK spokeswoman said the company has followed the law. Jones, though, said the credits involving BOK may be out of sync with the state constitution, which prohibits the state from making a gift to a private business.

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