Waste Watch: Quality Jobs numbers investigated.
Millions of dollars are coming off the top of the state budget, but is it helping or hurting the state's economy? One of the largest programs is the Oklahoma Quality Jobs program, which has spent nearly a billion dollars since its inception. The program is aimed at bringing in new jobs to Oklahoma, but a closer look at the numbers shows all those new jobs are not actually new.Simply put the quality jobs program allows companies to get tax rebates for creating jobs. The program has been hailed a success by pointing to major gains from companies like Boeing and even the Professional Basketball Club which owns the Oklahoma City Thunder. Those companies, it is said, would not, or could not have relocated to Oklahoma without the millions of dollars in tax credits."There are some big companies in there getting big money for hundreds of jobs that existed," said Mark Lash, a retired federal employee who keeps an eye on policy making in Oklahoma. Lash began looking into the Quality Jobs Program after reading an article about state incentives to private businesses."There's no limit to how much could be spent every year and there's no sunset provision it's not subject to the state auditor's review and the legislature hasn't even looked at a beginning to end review of how this program is done," Lash said.As he was looking into Quality Jobs, Lash found a peculiarity in some of the contracts. As he looked further he discovered the little-known exception called the "change in control" provision that allows current Oklahoma companies to claim they had zero employees and then receive tax credits for creating jobs that actually already existed."In those situations where a company has been sold, it's not in every situation where company may be leaving, but where a company has been sold to a new company and they are seriously considering leaving the state," said Department of Commerce spokesman Don Hackler. Hackler said the change in control provision is to protect jobs that could disappear. However, he said documentation supporting the claims the company would actually leave the state is confidential.That is the case of the Holly Refinery in Tulsa. "That refinery would have closed because it didn't meet the current standards for a refinery without a very very significant capital investment by the new owners," Hackler told Fox 25.However, the new owners spent millions to buy the refinery, knowing it needed environmental updates. According to the new owner's corporate filings, the purchase of the refineries in Tulsa nearly doubled the company's operation. The refinery also gives them access to pipelines that provide easy access to raw material. The company's stock has only increased since the purchase. Still the state has paid millions claiming the refinery was going to shut down. "If we're in the process of, in this case the risk of losing the jobs and also the loss of the strategic loss of an oil refinery here in the state," Hackler told Fox 25.That means the quality jobs program gets to claim hundreds of "new jobs" even though those jobs already existed at the refinery, which has continued to be a financial success."Their net profit after taxes was about a billion dollars," Lash said of the refinery. He told Fox 25 similar change in control contracts are a similar story. They are to companies that have already invested in Oklahoma and hold millions of dollars of infrastructure and receive other incentives from local governments."I'm not against incentives for companies at all," Lash said, "I think there are a lot of companies that could use the help to start up and to grow some and get going but if you look at the list of companies getting these dollars it's big companies they are very profitable and don't need it."