Thursday was a deeply disappointing day in Salem.
The last two months have been good. I’ve watched as the Joint Tax Credit Committee, whose work this session has been so arduous, cut excessive tax code spending in place after place. They’ve done difficult and excellent work.
But as their final act of the year, they turned around and passed out of committee SB 817, creating the ironically titled “Oregon Low Income Jobs Initiative,” a bill that will actually give $78 million to an out-of-state money management firm and others like it, because they in turn agree to loan no more than $66 million to businesses in Oregon. Think what the Oregon State Bank might have done with that lost $78 million.
The travesty in this ill-considered bill is that if the state itself loaned the whole $78 million out, it could not only be more selective about what businesses it supported, it would get back the $78 million plus interest, and be able to loan that money out again and again. But with SB 817, Advantage Capital and a few other financial management companies will get the $78 million, loan out $66 million for six years or more, and after that, the whole $78 million plus all interest earnings are theirs.
The businesses that will receive the loans set up by SB 817 need not be anything special, need not hire any new employees, need not serve needy Oregonians. They do need to place themselves in lower income areas in Oregon–but the legal definition in the bill includes every acre of several counties and much of downtown Portland, Medford, Eugene, Beaverton and many other communities.
The Oregon New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) piggybacks on the unsuccessful Federal NMTC. According to a GAO report last year based on NMTC’s own data, it’s impossible to know whether its projects would have taken place even without the tax credit. Under the guise of helping needy communities, the Federal NMTC has funded projects like Portland’s Gerding and Schnitzer theaters and the Nines Hotel atop Macy’s.
In the hearing Thursday only one legislator, Rep. Phil Barnhart, asked a single substantive question that showed careful reading of the bill. He rightfully identified the full cost of the bill as $78 million. Reps Bailey and Brewer insisted he was wrong, that it was only $16 million. But Barnhart was right. When they later learned that the cost of the bill was nearly five times more than they thought, Bailey, Brewer, and every other committee member except Barnhart voted for the bill. It now moves to the Senate and House with a “do pass” recommendation.
There is still time to stop this travesty on the Senate and House floors. It may be voted on today! Please contact your State Legislators now and tell him or her that Oregon doesn’t need a tax giveaway that has already been discredited at the Federal level. Instead, let’s use our limited tax revenue for essential services.