Editorial: Don't restrict tax credits from crediting taxes

Published Sep 7, 2013 at 05:00AM

We don’t buy the argument that Oregon businesses should not be able to use state-granted tax credits to — gasp! — reduce their corporate minimum tax bills.

At issue is the use of the state’s BETC, Business Energy Tax Credit, to offset what businesses owe as a result of the state’s corporate minimum tax. The Oregon Supreme Court said in May the practice is perfectly legal, leaving the state Department of Revenue scrambling to fill what could be a $90 million revenue hole over the next decade.

We haven’t been fans of the BETC program over the years. As initially created, it was ripe for abuse and, sure enough, abuse happened. Credits that were designed to benefit Oregonians went to trucking outfits from such places as New Mexico, among other problems.

At the same time, the Department of Revenue’s argument — that the BETC tax credit cannot be used to pay down corporate minimum taxes — bordered on the silly. As both the state tax court and Supreme Court said, had lawmakers not wanted BETC credits — or any other credits, for that matter — used to offset corporate minimum taxes, it would have said so.

Now, some Democratic lawmakers are looking for ways to prevent BETCs from being used to offset corporate minimum taxes. They, and the Department of Revenue, talk about “loss of revenue,” as if the state were entitled to those taxes, credits notwithstanding.

About 500 Oregon businesses could use BETC to offset corporate minimum bills, and because the court ruling covers several years, doing so is likely to set the state back by about $30 million this year. After that, the credits would reduce revenues by about $10 million annually.

The itch to capture that “lost” revenue is great, to be sure. Yet, if businesses cannot use tax credits to offset tax bills, what are they good for? The beauty of credits is just that — they may be used, dollar for dollar, to lower one’s tax bills. If lawmakers are unhappy with that, they should end the program, not narrow the ways in which BETC can be used.