Who's Getting Tax Breaks?

We hear a lot about tax breaks. How they’re helping to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and start building projects that will help revitalize neighborhoods. But the trouble with state-supported tax breaks has always been that we, the public, really had no idea who was getting the money, and how it was being spent. If anything, we only hear about tax breaks when things get out of hand, like when Cape Cod filmmaker Dan Adams was found guilty of fraud for taking over $4 million in film credit tax breaks or, you know, the whole Curt Schilling/38 Studios debacle. Thankfully, that changed last week with the implementation of legislation that allows for more transparency about the companies that are getting public funds. The state’s Department of Revenue just released the list of the 736 tax breaks given in 2011, which totaled over $171 million dollars.

It’s a terrific step forward, says MassPIRG legislative director Deirdre Cummings, who points out that three years ago, Massachusetts received an F grade on the level of transparency, and this year received an A-. “In order to allow democracy to work, people have to have access to this vital information,” Cummings says. “And it’s not only members of the public, but it’s so critical for lawmakers and local officials. For so long, it’s been difficult for them to get information, these are people who are making decisions based on state spending.”

Cummings says having the transparency about who is getting tax breaks will allow for better oversight of public dollars, and she’s waiting for the state to implement the next stage of the process — holding companies accountable for following through on their promises. She says that means “if you have a Curt Schilling problem, and someone isn’t meeting their promised commitment” saying they’ll create jobs then failing to do so, for example, or promising to build a building but never pouring the foundation, then the state will be able to “clawback” the money and send it to more worthwhile projects.”We wouldn’t let that happen when it’s funded from the state budget. We can’t let that happen when it’s funded by tax breaks.”

With the release of these reports, Massachusetts is now one of the most transparent states in the country. Three cheers to that.