OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A tax incentive package to help lure the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City won approval Monday in the state House over the objections of opponents who described it as corporate welfare for the NBA team's millionaire owners that does not benefit average Oklahomans.
"People are hopping mad about it," Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, said before House members voted 66-32 to send the measure to the Senate for consideration. It must pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Brad Henry before the incentives become law.
"It is unfair. It's very clearly unfair," Key said. "Taxpayers don't get this kind of benefit."
"What we're doing here is corporate welfare," said Rep. Charlie Joyner, R-Midwest City, adding that he does not want the Sonics in Oklahoma "if it's on the back of taxpayers."
The measure would expand Oklahoma's Quality Jobs Program to include the NBA. About 500 companies already participate in the program, which gives rebates to companies for creating jobs. If the team relocates, it is expected to bring 170 jobs with a $74 million payroll to the state.
House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said the measure would permit the Sonics to receive a rebate of a portion of payroll taxes paid by the team. It places a cap on the incentives not to exceed the top income tax rate in Oklahoma, which is currently 5.5 percent.
The measure would also permit the company to receive rebates on the taxable payroll paid by players from opposing teams when they play in the city, Benge said. He said the rebate will be about $4 million a year.
Sonics owner Clay Bennett has filed a relocation request with the NBA and a subcommittee of three NBA owners has recommend approval when all 30 owners vote on the SuperSonics' request on Friday.
"The owners of the team have put together a financial plan. This is part of that," Benge said. "They feel like they need this rebate to make the team profitable long term."
"A small-market team like Oklahoma City is going to be very challenging for the team to be profitable," he said. "We want to try to have them here long term."
The House passed the bill after approving several amendments, including one that rolled back its effectiveness from 15 years to 10 years and others that offered economic incentives for areas of rural Oklahoma.
Benge attempted to deflect criticism that the measure will divert scarce tax dollars to the team.
"This is money that's going to be generated only -- only -- if this basketball team comes to the state of Oklahoma," he said.
Benge said the team's move would have a total economic impact to the state of $170 million. Other lawmakers, including Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, said the team will create additional jobs in restaurants and other downtown businesses and give the city prominence.
"You can't buy that kind of advertising," Liebmann said.
"We are this close to our very first major professional team in the state of Oklahoma," said Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore. "This is our chance to send a signal."
But other lawmakers said the incentive package is unnecessary because the team has already revealed its plans to relocate.
"This team is coming here regardless," said Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore. Terrill referred to e-mails released last week that Bennett exchanged last year with partners about moving the team to Oklahoma City.
"It's been their intention to move the team here all along," Terrill said. "It is plain and simple, my friends, a gift."
"We're going to be giving away a lot of money," said Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. "Should we? Absolutely not." Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.