Workers comp lawyer Richard Bell assails tax credit transferability

 Richard Bell, one of the Oklahoma’s best-known attorneys and an expert in workers compensation litigation, appeared before the legislative task force investigating tax credits, exemptions, abatements and other business incentives on (Wednesday, October 12).

In a brief, understated yet dramatic speech to the task force, Bell said he was “not proud” to have purchased transferable credits, but asserted he did so for a purpose.

Bell said he believes the task force, chaired by state Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City, is “doing a valuable service to this state.” He said he asked for an opportunity to explain “why I purchased these credits.”

Bell said, “most of these credits started in Democratic administrations, and I’m not proud of that.” He said over recent years, friends who he went hunting with and otherwise engaged with socially had told him “I was a fool not to purchase some of these.”

Bell said he thought the transferability undermined the public purpose of incentive programs by moving them outside the economic development purpose. He asked his secretary a few years ago to arrange purchase of transferable credits, saying, “I had finally figured out a way to get some attention.”

Bell told the legislators, “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.” Bell first purchased $200,000 worth of credits from Mohammed Faranzi in 2009. Later, he bought credits in May 2010 through Valliance Bank. In his brief description, Bell indicatd he had participated in rural and energy efficient transferable tax credit purchases.

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK after his presentation, Bell said he had, with others, saved about $300,000 in state income tax liability, with $62,000 of that still to come in the current year.

In his speech, Bell said, “It’s the transferability that’s the big problem. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it for everybody. This has been ‘good’ for me, but I didn’t feel right about it.”

He said the transferability provisions began under Democrats like former Senate President Pro Temp Ted Fisher. Bell maintained, “the insurance industry has made me look pretty small” in comparison. Bell announced, “I will not be buying any more of these, but doing so gave me this opportunity. I’m not here to defend myself because I’m not sure I’m worth defending.”

Bell made it clear he believes that the money he and others have saved through these devices would have better been spent “on education and other needs.” He encouraged the task force to continue its work. He made clear he supports credits that benefit worthy purposes, but considers the transferability provisions unwise.

In a brief and cordial exchange with CapitolBeatOK, Bell said he appreciated the opportunity Dank gave him to address transferability issues, and that he believed the task force was “on the right track.” The panel consists of a bipartisan group of legislators and several statewide elected and appointed officials. The group’s formal name is the Task Force for the Study of State Tax Credits and Economic Incentives.

Dank last month told CapitolBeatOK he had asked legislative staff to prepare legislative language designed to end the transferable tax credit programs.