A recent report from Pew Center on the States lists Idaho among 26 states ‘trailing behind’ when it comes to evaluating tax incentives. That is, having a mechanism in place to take a closer look at the state-specific incentives and exemptions on a regular basis, and to evaluate if they’re doing what they were intended to do. In most cases, that’s spurring economic growth and development.
Another study published by Good Jobs First back in 2010, found Idaho is among 13 states with a failing grade on tax incentive transparency. Idaho doesn’t have a database of where tax incentives go, who gets them, and what kind of benefit (if any) a particular program has.
Both studies suggest many states aren’t where they should be and that Idaho isn’t alone.
these studies point to examples of where policy makers are doing a good job of making this kind of information publicly available.
When it comes to disclosure, Good Jobs First says Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri are doing the best job of making tax incentive information transparent. “[Some] states have been robustly reporting these things on their websites for years,” says Good Jobs First founder and executive director Greg LeRoy.
For example, Missouri has an online ‘accountability portal‘ which produces company-specific data for six of the biggest tax credit programs in the state. You can search the tax credit part of the site by legislative district, company or tax credit category. So, you can see which local vineyards received a wine and grape tax credit in 2011, and how much that credit was worth.
In Washington state, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee has been tasked with reevaluating
nearly 600 credits, exemptions and deductions that have been added to the state tax code over the years. Keenan Konopaski is the lead legislative auditor. He says transparency varies depending on the incentive. “The Legislature determines that,” says Konopaski. For the most part, he says certain tax incentives are protected by confidentiality laws, but other incentives have specific reporting requirements written into the law, which go around confidentiality concerns.
So, why hasn’t Idaho taken steps to open its specific tax incentive information? Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg) says it’s about confidentiality. “Just like you and I wouldn’t want someone to go in and see how much taxes we’re paying or how much we’re getting in credits and so forth, you’ve got the same situation with businesses.”
What tax incentive information do you think should be made public? Some of it? All of it? None of it? Weigh in below…