Tax Increment Financing Bill Moves toward House

Article excerpt

A bill to make tax increment financing a reality is working its way through the Oklahoma Legislature.

House Bill 1525, which would put into law the intent of State Question 641 passed last November by state voters, passed the House of Representatives Economic Development Committee last week and is pending before the full House.

Principally co-authored by Rep. Russ Roach and Sen. Penny Williams, both Tulsa Democrats, House Bill 1525 would create a Local Development Incentives Act.

The bill would provide a guideline for communities to take advantage of tax incentives targeted at historic preservation, enterprise zones and areas deemed to be in economic decline.

Roach said 35 states have some type of historic preservation legislation.

The federal historic preservation tax credits of the past have been whittled by budget cuts, he said.

The federal intent was for states to pick up the slack and they never did, he said.

House Bill 1525 deals with three broad incentive categories: historic preservation; conservation areas, defined as existing areas that have problems; and investment areas, addressing economic development needs of a community that wants to attract new industry.

The bill's second leg, tax increment financing, is a tool used by every single state surrounding Oklahoma, Roach said.

An example scenario where it could be used would be a vacant industrial tract, whose tax base would increase if a private investor refurbished it.

With tax increment financing, that "increment" of increased tax revenue between the vacant tract and the improved, productive property is captured by the community to pay for things like sewer and utility lines and streets that make it worthwhile for the private investor to utilize the property.

"The private entity still pays the full (tax) amount, but the increment is captured as a revenue stream for revenue bonds to go out and do the improvements," Roach said.

In Oklahoma City, this kind of financing could be used for Bricktown-type projects, he said.

Roach predicted this week that House Bill 1525 would end up in a conference committee. The idea is for the state law to set up a strong foundation for offering these financing tools by requiring public hearings, notification, conflict of interest rules and the like, he said.

The fine details would be up to the individual community, he said. . .

Bill to Set Limit on Number of State Workers A proposed constitutional amendment to put a permanent limit on the number of state employees is pending in the Rules Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Joint Resolution 1033's principal author is Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Warr Acres, and he has plenty of company in the form of 20 House co-authors.

If passed by the Legislature, the measure would call for a statewide vote on restricting the number of full-time state workers to 2 percent of Oklahoma's population.

Istook said Oklahoma State Finance Office figures show that Oklahoma now has 64,305 full-time employees, or 2.04 percent of the state's population of 3.1 million.

If Gov. David Walters' budget proposal went through, however, the percentage would decrease to about 2 percent, Istook said.

The measure only would permit the number of state employees to increase in response to population increases.

"Oklahoma has built one of the largest state bureaucracies in America," he said.

"State spending and state taxes will never be under control until we limit the size of government."

Istook said past legislatures and governors failed to use self-discipline.

"It's clear that state government will grow endlessly, unless the people insist we put a cap on it," he said.

Citing U.S. Census Bureau figures, Istook said Oklahoma is 13th among the states in the number of state workers per citizen, and 14th when both state and local workers are counted. …