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Incentive program may be used to attract Sonics talent



A state program that has helped hundreds of companies retain more than half a billion dollars in tax rebates for creating jobs in Oklahoma may be used to lure pro basketball stars like Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to the state. But some lawmakers have serious questions about the proposal.

In 1993, the state enacted the Quality Jobs Program Act, which provided tax incentives to companies creating jobs in Oklahoma. The intent was to attract out-of-state businesses into the state with the aroma of rebate checks.

More than 500 companies have taken advantage of the program, but if changes are adopted, a professional sports team like the Seattle SuperSonics could qualify if it moves to Oklahoma. In fact, the Sonics would become the program's largest beneficiary.

According to the authors of Senate Bill 1819, the Sonics would earn up to $60 million in tax rebates over 15 years while state and local tax revenues garnered from the team added up to $11.2 million. The bill would add a new classification for companies eligible for the program, increase the tax rebate rate to 5.5 percent, and expand the term from 10 to 15 years.

Critics of the proposal say the state is giving away too much. But Speaker of the House Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, defended his legislation.

"As long as you are receiving more benefit than what your costs are, I think it's good for the state," he said. "Scott Cooper


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