One of the last acts by the Oklahoma Legislature before it adjourned last week was the creation of a 10-member panel that will study state tax exemptions and exclusions and determine those that are no longer useful.
According to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the state has almost 500 wide-ranging exclusions, credits, deductions, deferrals, and incentives, ranging from the deduction for federal income-tax payments to a sales tax exemption for railroad spikes.
Unofficial legislative estimates have put the total lost revenue at up to $5 billion a year, almost matching the state’s $6.5 billion general fund budget for fiscal 2012.
The six legislative panel members include Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, and Senate Finance Committee chairman Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa.
Mazzei said the state could realize as much as $500 million a year by getting rid of several obsolete or ineffective tax breaks, while Dank put the total at $250 million a year.
Dank and Mazzei tried but failed during the recent session to eliminate more than 20 tax breaks that they said cost the state $54 million a year.
“What many of us are concerned about are the inefficient and obsolete tax preference items that go to special interest groups or projects that really don’t generate a net economic benefit to the state,” Mazzei said.
The panel also includes state Treasurer Ken Miller and three other statewide elected officials.
They cited a tax break for utilities that purchase coal mined in Oklahoma, which they said cost the government $30 million over the last three years to support an industry that employs only about 200 state residents.
Items currently exempt from the state sales tax include prescription drugs, horses, robots, oil drums, and museum admissions.
The panel is expected to provide recommendations to the Legislature this fall for potential action during the 2012 session.