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Tax incentives could use overhaul

tax-incentive-overhaulOklahoma can ill afford to continue its overly generous policy of tax breaks for various industries. These breaks, which might have started out years ago as a boost to fledgling or struggling businesses, often have outlived their usefulness unless you consider special treatment useful.

Rep David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, the incoming chairman of the House Tax Credit and Economic Incentive Oversight Committee, has argued that his colleagues should reconsider some of types of tax breaks that unfairly benefit some industries and businesses at the expense of others that don't receive relief.

He hasn't gotten very far in his push, but he will try again next session.

This week he met with officials of the Oklahoma Tax Commission and Commerce Department for a briefing on the topic. Last year, he held meetings on some of the dozens of tax credits and exemptions that the state hands out at a cost of millions of dollars each year.

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After years of personal income-tax cuts and pledges by lawmakers not to raise any taxes, Oklahoma government must live within its present income. But the state budget is so strapped that public education and other vital services are being starved.

Schools have seen their funding cuts for several years. State workers who do the people's business haven't had raises. The Department of Corrections, for instance, has gone seven years without giving workers a raise. That sure doesn't afford the DOC much of a competitive edge on keeping or retaining employees who do a very difficult job.

Some of the industries that receive tax breaks need them to survive. But some incentives -- such as those for the energy sector -- are overly generous and unfair to other industries that don't receive anywhere that level of relief. Dank has an unpopular job, and lobbyists will be gunning to keep the status quo.

Oklahoma, with its populist roots, is a state that prides itself on fairness. Yet some of these tax incentives are patently unfair. They come at the expense of too many other industries, at a cost to state workers and taxpayers.

(c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

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Tax incentives could use overhaul