OKLAHOMA CITY – The wind industry has been unfairly targeted for additional taxation, jeopardizing its future investment in the state, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Mark Yates, OK WindPower executive director, and industry supporters held a Capitol press conference in the House lounge to explain the industry’s opposition to a proposal by the group Step Up Oklahoma to assess a $1 tax per megawatt hour on electricity generated by wind.
Step Up Oklahoma has put together a package of tax hikes and reform measures for consideration by the Legislature. It includes raising the gross production tax on oil and natural gas to 4 percent from 2 percent, taxing each pack of cigarettes an additional $1.50, and raising the tax on gasoline and diesel by 6 cents per gallon.
The revenue measures are expected to generate $750 million and provide money for core government services and a $5,000 teacher pay raise.
In the past three years, anti-wind groups have created a climate of volatility that affects the state’s business reputation going forward, Yates said.
Some lawmakers have grabbed onto the anti-wind sentiment to make the industry a scapegoat for the state’s problems and ills, he said.
Yates said the industry has given up every one of its tax incentives.
The zero-emission tax credit expired July 1, but companies that were already in the pipeline will still be able to use it for another decade.
The industry also gets a five-year break on ad valorem, which sunset on Dec. 31, 2016.
The state offered the incentives to the industry to attract it in hopes of diversifying the economy, Yates said.
Oklahoma is now second in the nation in wind capacity and has seen $20 billion in investment and the creation directly and indirectly of 9,000 jobs, Yates said.
“All we want is fair, reasonable and equitable treatment,” he said.
The state should tax all power generators, such as water and solar, the same way, he said.
“I think it has gotten to the point this back and forth is really to the detriment of the state of Oklahoma,” Yates said. “At the end of the day, we are not going to come up to the Capitol and advocate for any other industry to pay whatever in taxes.”
Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, said “the facts are the facts.”
The people of Oklahoma subsidize the wind industry too heavily, said McBride, who has been openly critical of the subsidies.
Toward the end of the press conference, a House sergeant approached Yates and told him that the office of House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, had directed the sergeant to stop the meeting because the room had not been reserved “for you guys today, so we need to stop it now.”
“The Speaker’s Office did not ask the House sergeants to remove anyone from the House lounge,” said Jason Sutton, a McCall spokesman. “The issue was brought by a member of the House. A House administrator asked the House sergeants to enforce the House policy.”
Sutton said lawmakers who reserve the room must be present while it is being used, which did not occur.
McBride said he was the member who lodged the complaint.
Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he reserved the room for the press conference.
“Having seen numerous coalition and industry-led press conferences in my 11 years in the House of Representatives, I do not understand why the coalition’s press conference was disrupted this morning,” Inman said. “I apologize to the sergeants who were asked to intervene. I hope future groups interested in sharing their ideas at the state Capitol are more warmly received.”
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