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Oklahoma Legislators Approve 3 New Tax Breaks

By SEAN MURPHY

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) â¿¿ While Republican legislators in Oklahoma continue wrangling over how to scale back costly tax credits, lawmakers approved three new tax breaks on Wednesday for tickets to sporting events, construction of affordable homes and the purchase of helicopters.

All three bills were approved Wednesday by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, including one for the purchase of helicopters that narrowly failed in the same committee just last week.

Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, said the tax credit is designed to show state support for a helicopter training facility opening in southwest Oklahoma, even though he acknowledged the facility already is planning to open without the credit.

A fiscal analysis of the proposed tax credit shows it will cost the state about $1 million in the upcoming fiscal year, and an additional $535,000 in fiscal year 2015.

The credit applies to the purchase of rotary-winged aircraft used exclusively for training.

The issue of tax credits, exemptions and rebates â¿¿ known collectively as tax expenditures â¿¿ has been a thorny one for legislators who have considered ways to eliminate or overhaul them for the last several years to shore up the state budget or pay for a Republican-backed income tax cut.

"It's just totally absurd," said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, a longtime critic of many tax credits offered by the state. A bill by Dank to require additional scrutiny of tax credits was recently scuttled in a Senate committee. "The truth of the matter is the Legislature out here is responsible to the lobbyists and special interests, not the taxpayers.

"It's sinful, and I just hate it."

Gov. Mary Fallin's ambitious tax cut proposal last year began to fall apart when lawmakers balked at eliminating some of the tax exemptions and credits used to help pay for the lost revenue. This year, Fallin's simpler proposal for a one-quarter of 1 percent cut in the state's top income tax rate was gutted in the Senate and replaced with a new approach that ends the transferability of five separate tax credits for coal mining, wind power, rehabilitation of historic buildings, energy-efficient home construction and railroad modernization.

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