If theaters could talk, what would they say?
The Tower Theatre on 23rd Street in OKC found its voice in January when its iconic sign lit up and the general public got a tour of the half-finished restoration project.
But last week, the theater’s marquee got in the swing of the 2016 Oklahoma Legislative session and offered a political statement: “I’m shining thanks to historic tax credits.”
The inanimate object’s foray into politics comes as the Legislature considers repealing and reducing some tax credits to address Oklahoma’s budget problems, which have ballooned to a nearly $1.3 billion projected shortfall.
Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee heard, amended and passed SB 977, a 98-page proposal bound to upset any commercial-interest group affected.
Indeed, some economic interest groups were immediately riled up, including Boeing, a company that benefits from Oklahoma’s aerospace-engineering tax credit and that adeptly navigates U.S. tax systems to the tune of actually receiving a $199 million net federal tax refund in 2013.
No wonder Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) draws enormous crowds for his speeches condemning sweetheart deals for major U.S. corporations. (You can read about Boeing’s 2014 federal tax payments — 8.5 percent on $6.8 billion in profit — here.)
But let’s get back to SB 977. From NewsOK.com Capitol reporter Rick Green:
The Senate Finance Committee passed Senate Bill 977 on Tuesday, placing a two-year moratorium on nearly two dozen tax credits. Committee Chairman Mike Mazzei said the measure was intended to give lawmakers options and isn’t a final version.
However, Fallin said in her Tuesday statement mere consideration of a moratorium “resulted today in a major business canceling two projects for Oklahoma.” On Wednesday, she slightly revised her statement to change “canceling” to “eliminating Oklahoma from consideration” for the projects.
While Fallin’s office avoided naming the company publicly, Green and NonDoc each confirmed it was Boeing. The exchange underscores the ability of big businesses to grab states and municipalities by the shorthairs, threatening to do business elsewhere if a political subdivision doesn’t grant the same tax breaks as competing states or cities. For example, this website gives states and U.S. territories ratings for how lucrative their film-production tax credits are. Of course, everyone is competing with Canada, as well.
Similarly, members of the Wind Coalition (“Wind Energy — Powering Oklahoma’s Future”) are warning lawmakers that any further winnowing of Oklahoma’s wind credits will ship billions of dollars of economic development to Kansas. The Wind Coalition’s website also notes that it lobbies Kansas and five other states in the region.
So while the Tower Theatre’s leap into political messaging on the subject of historic preservation tax credits is visually compelling and important, it’s hardly novel, and SB 977 is hardly anywhere near its final version. To be sure, however, the owners of and investors in the Tower Theatre have a lot less financial wiggle room than do the executives of Boeing.
But with more than $1 billion in state revenue missing from what would be even just a flat budget, legislators are facing tough decisions.
“It’s disappointing that less than two weeks into the legislative session, however, there already is retreat from the idea of simply examining whether or not tax incentives are working,” Sen. President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) told NewsOK after Fallin’s announcement on Boeing. “The alternative is deep cuts to core services like education, public safety and transportation, which all of us are trying to avoid.”
Bingman noted that Fallin herself called for tax reform in her state-of-the-state address. Fallin’s office also called for a major restructuring of Oklahoma’s sales tax process, but it’s unclear whether legislators are going to pick up a political football that includes adding sales tax to things like haircuts, advertising sales and sporting event tickets.
Oklahomans, however, should at least appreciate these early discussions on important issues.
Lawmakers could be spending their time on “joke” bills.
Things we saw (and heard)
Major south OKC interchange to get multilevel makeover — The Oklahoman
What Clinton said in her paid speeches — Politico
Tesla preparing to charge into affordable car market — NPR
Oklahoma governor warns against putting tax breaks on hold — The Oklahoman
Louisiana is broke, and now the governor is threatening to cancel LSU football — Deadspin
King: Peyton Manning’s squeaky clean image was built on lies — New York Daily News
Quotes to note
I just thought it was another day of hate. People are going to hate people for certain things. Sometimes it’s not fair what they hate you for.
— 17-year-old Tariq Smith talking to NPR about Texas A&M students who yelled a racial slur at his classmates while they toured the university campus, 2/12/16
Yeah, fuck you!
— A man recorded on tape responding to his boss’s request that Carrier manufacturing workers keep making high-quality products even though the company had just announced it would be moving the plant to Mexico, 2/11/16
You know, I was disappointed. I was told I was fired. Sam told me, ‘We don’t want you back.’ I got up, I shook his hand and said thank you. And I walked out. There was no reason to try to change their mind. I know the group that we had was resilient. Our players were resilient and I know myself and my staff were resilient. I was worried about my staff.
— Former OKC Thunder coach Scott Brooks in a podcast transcribed by NewsOK.com, 2/9/16
Way Back: A 5-Alive 1980 news report about punk rock
Highlights from NonDoc
“Clinton wades into quicksand of the UFO phenomenon” by Darren Bond
“Kevin Durant honors fallen Thunder ‘family’ member” by William W. Savage III
“Making the case for school gardens as classrooms” by Tiara Blue