Boston Globe: Senate says disclose state tax-credit list

By Todd Wallack, Globe Staff  |  May 27, 2010

The state Senate voted 38 to 0 yesterday to disclose the names of filmmakers, dairy farmers, and other businesses that receive an estimated $245 million a year in refundable tax credits.

The measure, a budget amendment proposed by Senator Benjamin Downing, Democrat of Pittsfield, was one of several proposals to make more information about the tax credits public.

Unlike traditional tax credits that simply reduce a company’s state income tax bill, refundable taxes are particularly lucrative because they can be transferred to other companies or sold back to the state. Companies can use them even if they owe nothing.

Information about some of the credits is already available because they are approved by boards or public officials who make them public. But most of the tax credits are handled solely by the Department of Revenue, which says it is required to keep tax data confidential. It has declined, for instance, to identify recipients of $125 million a year in film tax credits.

Under the measure passed yesterday, the state would be required to create reports on refundable tax credit programs to help evaluate their effectiveness. But in a last-minute change, the Senate decided to remove a provision that would have required reports on how many jobs are created by each company.

Senator James Eldridge, Democrat of Acton, objected, arguing it would make it impossible to know if all companies receiving subsidies are creating jobs.

Regardless, the measure is likely to become law in some form. The House has already passed a measure similar to the one the Senate approved, and Governor Deval Patrick included language calling for more disclosure in his budget proposal.

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