Oregon offers tax credits to e-commerce businesses, movie producers, rural physicians and homeowners who buy wood pellet stoves. But a proposal to attack stubbornly high unemployment rates by providing incentives to people who create new jobs is gaining little bipartisan support in Salem.
House Bill 3053 would offer qualifying employers a $3,000 tax credit for each job created. The new employee would need to be previously unemployed and remain in the job for at least a year. Employers must prove they have been doing business in Oregon for at least two years and that the new hire is resulting in a net increase in jobs at the company.
“It makes common sense,” says Rep. Kevin Cameron (R-Salem). “It doesn’t cost the state a dime until someone gets hired. These are real people on the ground, going to work tomorrow, who are going to pay income taxes.”
Republican lawmakers are pushing the tax credits as part of a multi-pronged strategy to make the state friendlier to business. Cameron says he has received significant support for the idea from business owners. “I’ve heard from many people who are struggling or just hanging on and are waiting for that extra little incentive that will get them to hire someone.”
Democratic Senate president Peter Courtney has voiced support for direct incentives for job creation in the past. But few of his party colleagues have voiced support for HB 3053 this year. Rep Tobias Read (D-Beaverton), co-chair of the transportation and economic development committee, says the program would be ripe for abuse. “The problem is, you can’t ever tell whether you are unnecessarily subsidizing something that would have happened anyhow.”
Read says Democrats are taking a cautious approach to tax credits given the challenge of simply providing basic services. “Every dollar we authorize in tax credits is a dollar that we don’t spend on education,” says Read.
A recent state report examines a dizzying assortment of tax credits including a biomass tax credit that is costing the state $14.6 million in the current biennium, a tax break for people who donate to the Trust for Cultural Development ($7.2 million) and the mother of them all, the business energy tax credit ($185 million). At $3,000 per job, $185 million would equate to 61,667 jobs.