Sunshine Week: Oregon EZ Program Lets You See Into the Future and Into the Past

March 12, 2024

Note: Sunshine Week was launched in 2005 by the then-American Society of Newspaper Editors. It is designed to draw attention to the perils of a secretive government and the critical importance of an open, transparent government. This year, Good Jobs First celebrates by highlighting places modeling great transparency around economic development incentives and corporate behavior.

A highway sign says "Oregon" and there is a see through bubble over it to indicate transparency.

In 2022, I was part of a research team who spent months analyzing 250 state subsidy disclosure practices. Many transparency sites we looked at were easy to use, connected multiple awards to a single project, and mapped subsidy awards by project location. The best sites also provide raw data in a downloadable digital format that readily allows for analysis.

One standout example is Oregon’s Enterprise Zone disclosure site, which gives users meaningful data on program recipients. The site provides four datasets organized according to recipients’ project status:

  • Part A has data on projects that currently receive subsidies,
  • Part B has data on projects that will start abatement in the upcoming year,
  • Part C lists projects that finished abatements and now are paying taxes, and
  • Part D lets you know which projects have been authorized for the subsidy and will start abatements sometime soon.

Parts B and D are especially unique among state-level transparency sites.

Part B – Enterprise Zone Businesses-Begin Exemption-Qualified Property 2023 and Part D – Enterprise Zone Businesses - Authorized for Future Exemption(s) on Qualified Property, 2023

Users can see data on job creation, investment, taxable value of property, subsidy amount, and more. The datasets are also accompanied by a good explanation of each field (you might be surprised how many disclosures sites do not properly explain its data).

The data is posted to Oregon’s Open Data Portal. It is not the most intuitive to use but searching for the phrase “Enterprise Zone 2023” does the job. Users can then download the data or browse it in online tables.

A quick look at the data reveals that in 2023, the largest subsidy award went to Twitter, now X. The Elon Musk-owned social media platform received over $5.6 million for its data center in Washington County. Number of jobs created: seven (one drawback is that the datasets do not include project types, but by looking at the reported huge investment amounts and small job creation numbers, I can infer which awards are for data centers).

The portal also revealed the program’s biggest beneficiary to be Amazon. It shows several projects that used to be subsidized but now pay taxes; in fact, Amazon’s projects account for 62% of the taxable property value of all past subsidized projects in the program. The company has eight active abatements too, for warehouses and data centers, which saved the company over $11 million in 2023 alone.

And what projects are slated to come online in 2025? Per the portal, we can see several more abatements for data centers. QTS, a company that provides data center services to other companies, will start a 5-year deal on a project worth over $330 million. Beaver Venture LLC, a subsidiary of another colocation company, Digital Realty Trust, will start its abatement too, along with Twitter and NTT Global Data Center.

Oregon’s EZ disclosure site is not perfect. The state could tell us more about the quality of the subsidized jobs, and it could do a better job linking current-year datasets with past-year datasets. That way the public could see how much a company has gotten historically. But it remains a rarity for disclosure sites to present information so easy to understand and to provide data on present, past, and future projects. This is a practice each state could and should be doing.

Read more

Sunshine Week: Transparency Portals Show It Can Be Done (more easily than you think)

Sunshine Week: Madison, Wisc. Offers A Shining Example of Transparent Economic Development

Sunshine Week: Philadelphia Transparency Spurs Reductions in Corporate Tax Breaks

Sunshine Week: The Golden State (California) Gets a Gold Star