SALEM — A tax reform group is pushing state lawmakers to reform transferable income tax credits that Oregon awards to energy conservation, transportation, biomass and agricultural workforce housing projects.
Jody Wiser is chairwoman of Tax Fairness Oregon, a group which advocates for a progressive tax code and full enforcement of state tax laws. Wiser is also a registered lobbyist for the group.
Wiser met Thursday with state Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Springfield, and chairman of the House Interim Committee on Revenue, to discuss potential changes to the tax credits.
The state has awarded many of these tax credits to nonprofits, religious groups and governments that don’t owe any taxes, but because the credits are transferable the groups can sell them to raise cash. In many cases the credits are sold at deep discounts, resulting in less money for the projects they were meant to help fund.
“The whole idea of selling a five-year tax credit might be the stupidest thing we’re doing,” Wiser said.
It would be simpler for the state to issue grants to the projects officials want to support, instead of tax credits, Wiser said.
“Frankly, as much as the people who do energy and the people who do low-income housing would like to see their budgets protected, because tax credits protect them, I don’t think their budgets are more sacrosanct than school budgets, and school budgets aren’t protected,” Wiser said.
Wiser suggested that if the state wants to continue issuing transferable tax credits as a public policy tool, agencies should sell only one-year tax credits and use public auctions to make the sales.
That would raise money that could be issued in grants to the projects the state wants to encourage.
Supporters of tax credit auctions point out the Oregon film office has used them successfully to sell tax credits for about 99 cents on the dollar.
Wiser said there are “a lot of people in the housing community and it sounds negative to do something they don’t want. So it may be changing it to an auction is the farthest you can go.”
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.