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Taxpayer Transparency Act opposed by State Chamber

Oklahoman, June 4, 2007
Randy KrehbieL and Barbara Hoberock

An association that represents hundreds of Oklahoma businesses is urging the governor to veto a measure to create a searchable database of how state dollars are spent, arguing the law may spook investors who receive state tax credits. The State Chamber, a group that represents Oklahoma businesses and industry, sent a letter last week to Gov. Brad Henry urging him to veto Senate Bill 1, dubbed the Taxpayer Transparency Act.

In his letter to Henry dated June 1, Richard Rush, president and CEO of The State Chamber, said he's particularly concerned about exposing the recipients of tax credits that are often used to lure businesses and industries to Oklahoma.

"SB 1 will shine an unwanted light on those who invest in Oklahoma, and it will make it much more difficult to attract those investors," Rush wrote. "The goal of SB 1 is fine. The inclusion of tax credits is a bad idea."

Henry said Monday he is still reviewing the legislation and hasn't made a decision on whether to sign it, but said his staff would consider Rush's concerns.

"The State Chamber makes a good point," Henry said. "We need to make certain in any bill we pass that there aren't any unintended consequences."

The author of the bill, Sen. Randy Brogdon, said exposing to the public the recipients of tax credits was one of the main purposes of the measure, which also creates a searchable database of where state money is spent.

"SB 1 has come under attack by few individuals who would prefer that light not be shined on certain activities," said Brogdon, R-Owasso. "The state provides millions of dollars in tax credits to businesses every year. Oklahoma citizens have just as much right to know where this money is going as they do to know where expenditures are going for other government programs."

Brogdon said the bill was modeled after a new federal law authored by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who also weighed in on the debate Monday with a press release urging Henry to sign the bill.

"The only reason to oppose transparency and openness in government would be if you have something to hide," Coburn said in a statement. "I hope the governor will support transparency and openness in government and quickly sign state Senate Bill 1 into law."

But Mike Seney, vice president of operations for The State Chamber, said the language in the bill regarding tax credits is vague and may expose to the public individual and corporate tax returns.

"When you start talking about tax returns, you're treading very close ... to individual rights," Seney said. "If I give money to a tax credit program ... why should that be out there on the Web for everyone to see?"

But Brogdon said that argument is bogus and that language in the bill does not apply to an individual's personal income tax returns.

Mark Thomas, executive director of the Oklahoma Press Association, said his group has supported the bill throughout the legislative process and hopes Henry will sign it.

"The more sunshine you can put on government activities, the more people can exercise their right to vote and be fully informed about their government," Thomas said. "If you want the people of Oklahoma to give you a tax break, go ahead and ask us, but don't expect us to keep it a secret."

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