Responding to proposed legislation to rein in the incentive, The State Chamber released a study Monday on the economic benefits of the ad valorem tax exemption used by Oklahoma wind farms and manufacturers.
The study, by economic consulting firm RegionTrack Inc., said the incentive is especially beneficial to rural communities. For every dollar expended, the firm estimated $225 came in new economic output.
The five-year exemption on local property taxes is reimbursed by the state to schools, counties and CareerTech centers. It was approved by voters in 1985 under State Question 588.
The incentive is for wind developers, large manufacturers and data centers. The reimbursements come from the first 1 percent of state income tax collections.
The state paid $64 million in reimbursements in 2013, with half of the exemptions claimed by wind farms. Total reimbursements rose 39 percent from $46 million in 2012, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
The study said nine states, including Kansas, have similar ad valorem exemptions.
“The outsized economic impact of the manufacturing sector has forced most states to seek ways to support future growth in the sector, and tax incentives are a common competitive tool used,” the study said.
Mike Seney, executive director of the State Chamber Research Foundation, said the incentive has aided a resurgence in the state’s manufacturing sector.
“The study clearly shows that the original intent of the program to make Oklahoma attractive to capital investment is working and the state is seeing significant benefits as a result,” Seney said in a news release.
Wind incentives targeted
The Tax Commission estimates the wind industry could claim $210 million in ad valorem exemptions from 2014 to 2018. Another $123 million could be claimed under a separate tax credit for zero-emissions electricity generation in the same time period.
Several lawmakers have targeted the incentives, saying they are too generous. Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, and Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, have filed bills scaling back the incentives and increasing regulations on the wind industry.
Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, said Monday that his subcommittee on revenue and taxation will not hear any bills this year that have a negative fiscal impact. He specifically cited past incentives for wind energy.
“Proposals to give away more state funds or to siphon money from one pocket to another will be dead on arrival in my subcommittee this session,” Dank said in a news release.
Dank previously said his ongoing review of tax credits wouldn’t include changes to the rates of gross production taxes for oil and gas companies passed last year.
The Oklahoma Property Rights Association, which has called for a review of wind incentives, said it wants to eliminate a provision of the ad valorem exemption that allows wind farms to be exempt from some job-creation requirements.
“Industrial wind should be held to the same requirements for job creation as other industries receiving the exemption,” the association’s Rick Mosier said in an email. “They must create sufficient, high-paying permanent jobs in Oklahoma to warrant the expenditure by taxpayers and Oklahoma’s investment in the industry.”
However, The Wind Coalition, a regional trade group, said the ad valorem exemption offers a “tremendous return on investment” to the state.
“Since 2003, ad valorem exemptions have played a key role in the over $6.1 billion capital investment provided by the wind industry in Oklahoma,” said Jeff Clark, the coalition’s executive director. “This investment includes millions in annual wages, tax revenue for counties and school districts and landowner royalties.”
Annual reimbursements remained between $10 million and $20 million for much of the 1990s. They jumped sharply in 2002 as electric power plants were added to the list of qualifying companies, the RegionTrack study said. That coincided with a boom in building natural gas plants in the state.
Reimbursements fell to $33.5 million in 2010 in the wake of the national recession, but began growing again as wind farm construction boomed.
The study said the state’s Ad Valorem Reimbursement Fund first reached a shortfall in 2003 and hasn’t been fully funded since. Lawmakers have had to make up the difference through supplemental appropriations, including $12 million in 2013.
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