Last updated: February 21. 2014 2:41PM - 672 Views
TIM TALLEY Associated Press

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Legislation to create a tax credit for low- and moderate-income housing in rural areas was approved by an Oklahoma House committee Thursday over the objections of one lawmaker who said the Legislature should first create a method of determining whether such programs are a good deal for taxpayers.

“We’ve got to stop this tax credit stuff,” said Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, former chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee that passed the bill on a 13-5 vote. The bill now goes to the full House for debate and a vote.

The bill by Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, creates a new tax credit program similar to the federal low-income housing tax credit. The amount of state tax credits would equal the amount of federal low-income tax credits for a qualified project.

The bill would reduce state revenue by $8.7 million in the first year, an amount that would increase in subsequent years, according to a fiscal analysis of the measure by House research analysts.

Jackson said it is designed to encourage development of affordable housing for a variety of workers who are moving into rural areas. It is a companion bill to one approved by the committee on Wednesday that would authorize the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency to set aside a percentage of the funds it receives to promote housing in rural areas.

The bill was developed following a legislative study conducted in October that Jackson requested in which rural Oklahoma officials said a lack of affordable housing for the influx of energy and agricultural workers to their regions was stalling economic growth.

Officials at Seaboard Foods, a pork producer and processor that is Guymon’s largest employer, said housing for the plant’s 3,300 workers there is one of the company’s biggest concerns. They said at least 550 Seaboard employees commute from communities in Kansas or Texas because they can’t find suitable housing in Oklahoma.

But Sears told members of the committee that lawmakers should have a way of reviewing how effective tax credit programs are before they create new ones.

“We’ve got to stop,” Sears said.

Following the vote, Sears expressed concern that lawmakers continue to approve new tax credit programs that carry large price tags as the amount of state revenue to pay for them dwindles.

“When do we stop giving away the taxpayer’s dollars?” he said.

Sears presided over the legislative study that explored rural housing needs and said he believes the concerns of rural officials are genuine. But he said lawmakers should develop criteria to analyze any new tax credits, including their economic impact and whether they will help taxpayers.

“We just can’t get that issue out of the dugout,” he said.

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