Bureaucracy seeks more secrecy for economic development

  • Updated: June 12, 2012 at 12:11 PM by Zachary Janowski

Yesterday I argued a case before the Freedom of Information Commission. Today, the General Assembly will consider a new exemption allowing the state to keep more records secret.

Coincidence?

Last year, I spent some time asking the Department of Economic and Community Development about the economic model it uses to evaluate corporate welfare subsidy programs like First Five and Jackson Labs.

I learned that they license the Policy Insight + model from Regional Economic Models Inc., or REMI for short. (Download a demo here.)

I asked for the inputs to the REMI model the state used to evaluate the CIGNA deal, the first of the First Five.

The state gave me five of the inputs, but claimed six of them are “trade secrets” under Connecticut law.

I considered their argument and found it reasonable.

Then I asked for the outputs from the model, to which they denied access.

On Monday, I made my case to the Freedom of Information Commission that the outputs are not trade secrets after a deal is struck. DECD Commissioner Smith and other state officials cite REMI model outputs to justify their decisions, but they are unwilling to allow people to evaluate these numbers on their own.

This information is important to guarantee the effectiveness and integrity of Connecticut’s economic development practices.

The first is a cost-benefit argument: are the people of Connecticut getting what they are paying for? Releasing these documents will allow the people to understand what state officials are “buying” on their behalf.

In fact, if the state is going to pay businesses to create jobs, why shouldn’t the state openly bid the “procurement” of jobs.

Secondly, it is in the people’s interest to know the government’s economic development practices have integrity. Releasing these documents will allow the people to confirm the state’s practices are free from the appearance or reality of corruption.

However, someone is now arguing the state needs a new line of defense to keep this information secret.

Matt DeRienzo has the specifics:

A new exemption to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act was “sneaked” into “implementer” legislation that will be considered in a special session of the Connecticut legislature today (Tuesday, June 12).

In dangerously broad language, it would make secret “all records” relating to deals the state makes in giving or loaning taxpayer dollars to private businesses. We don’t have to go back very far in Connecticut’s history to see how such arrangements can go wrong and why it’s important that taxpayers know when and how their money is being spent on non-government uses and whether it’s justified.

Here’s the exact language:

(27) All records obtained by a state agency or a quasi-public agency related to a request for assistance from a business or organization seeking to expand or relocate to this state, provided the disclosure of such records could adversely affect the financial interest of the state, the business or organization.

This is as outrageous an assault on the public’s right to know as one could imagine. Not only must it be rejected in its entirety, but we need to know and hold accountable whichever lawmaker and/or legislative leader drafted it and allowed it to be considered in a special session designed to handle emergencies. It’s fitting, I guess, that a proposal to keep the public’s business secret from the public would be proposed in such a secretive, underhanded manner.

This exemption, if approved, will increase the secrecy of Connecticut’s economic development bureaucracy and make it less accountable to citizens of this state.

Update: The Connecticut Mirror is reporting this one will have to wait until next time.