Rural revitalization hinges on tax breaks

Oklahoma City- Speaker Todd Hiett and the bipartisan REDI task force to-day announced a comprehensive package of more than 20 pieces of legislation seeking to revitalize rural communities across Oklahoma by encouraging investment and offering tax incentives.

Headlining the bipartisan REDI package: A plan to offer income tax exemption to out-of-state residents choosing to move back to rural areas of Oklahoma. The five-year income tax exemption would exempt anyone from out of state moving to rural areas of Oklahoma that have been losing population — a powerful incentive to boost population and economic growth. Participants would have to purchase or build a single-family home to qualify.

House Bill 3126, The Come Home Oklahoma Act, would cost about $6 million in fiscal year 2007, and $60 million when fully implemented in fiscal year 2013. About 4000 families a year have been moving to Oklahoma counties that have been losing population and buying houses.

“The REDI task force spent months listening to what people in rural communities needed to succeed. They repeatedly told us, ‘Get government out of the way, cut red tape, and reduce taxes,'” said Speaker Hiett (R-Kellyville). “Business leaders in rural Oklahoma have already told us that legislation like this will be a tremendous recruiting tool to make them more competitive. Rural communities will be empowered using this legislation.”

“REDI is about making rural Oklahoma ready for jobs, ready for opportunity, and ready for the future,” Hiett continued. “And the Come Home Oklahoma Act is about bringing our state back to what makes us great. It's about coming home to our rural roots — building opportunity for everyone so that we can prepare Oklahoma for the next 100 years of its history.”

The REDI agenda also includes measures boosting targeted investments in programs that benefit rural areas, as well as measures seeking to remove regulatory barriers to growth. And the package incorporates other major planks from the House GOP agenda including lawsuit reform (such as a measure aimed at landowner liability), repeal of the death tax, and more investment in county roads.

“We're going to invest in proven programs,” said Rep. Dale De Witt (R-Braman), co-chair of the bipartisan legislative task force. “We're moving beyond simply talking about solutions, taking direct action this year.”

“Rural Oklahomans have a strong work ethic, and they just want the chance for more opportunity,” said Rep. Don Armes (R-Faxon), co-chair of the REDI task force. “The entire slate of legislation we've developed will spark that job opportunity.”

REDI (Rural Economic Development Initiative) began in late August as a two-pronged approach to bring growth and opportunity to Oklahoma's rural communities. Working with Speaker Hiett, former U.S. Representative Wes Watkins worked to use the resources of the Oklahoma State University extension service and Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma, Inc. to identify existing and new business opportunities across the state.

“Our focus has been on creating jobs,” said Watkins. “This year, we can take action to rebuild rural Oklahoma. REDI will establish a structure for rural Oklahoma to thrive. I'm confident that lawmakers will move the REDI agenda forward this year.”

The bipartisan REDI legislative task force traveled to 12 communities across the state through the fall, gathering information from leaders and citizens in rural communities to develop a legislative agenda:

End the Death Tax

REDI will push for a complete repeal of Oklahoma's unfair and economically harmful death tax with HB 3125, authored by Speaker Hiett.

The death tax hurts Oklahoma's most productive citizens — small business owners and family farmers and discourages investment in our state.

The Come Home Oklahoma Act HB 3126,

The Come Home Oklahoma Act will enact a five-year income tax exemption for anyone from out of state moving to qualifying rural areas of Oklahoma that have been losing population. The REDI legislative agenda would also fight for employer-assisted housing in rural areas and incentives for rehabilitating rental homes.

Encouraging Local Development

REDI would allow counties to join together to organize and enhance economic development efforts, as well as empower local communities to improve infrastructure (for example, funding industrial access roads).

Bringing Investment to Rural Areas

REDI will provide incentives to drive investment in rural communities, such as a measure to encourage new enterprises for value-added processing of Oklahoma agricultural products.

Cutting Red Tape

Other measures will work to remove regulatory barriers — for example, streamlining the process for approval of new refineries and providing for a faster, more efficient truck permitting process. The REDI agenda will also limit third-party liability for misuse of agricultural products.

Spurring Rural Tourism

Increasingly, family farmers are finding opportunities to attract tourists. REDI will protect rural landowners from liability, and would facilitate promotion of farm and ranch-based tourist attractions.