November 10, 2003
More state secrets

From the continuing story of Things Rick Perry Doesn't Want You To Know:

Gov. Rick Perry's office has filed a lawsuit seeking to keep secret the financial incentives offered to Boeing Co. to build a plant in Texas.

The lawsuit filed Thursday was in response to a request from Alfred Ehm, a member of the Texas Central Rail-Corridor Coalition of San Antonio, for details of the possible tax breaks that were being offered to the airplane maker.

"I'm trying to make a point that the government cannot receive and spend taxpayer money and claim they're not a public agency," Ehm told the Austin American-Statesman.

The state's Department of Economic Development, run by the governor's office, is negotiating with Chicago-based Boeing to build a manufacturing plant in Texas.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office ruled in October that some of the information about the incentives must be released.

But the economic development department contends the incentive package Texas offered Boeing should not be open to the public because it contains confidential commercial and financial information. Exposing the information would jeopardize the state's ability to attract businesses, the department said in an August letter to the attorney general.

"If businesses believe that communications with the state during the site selection process cannot be kept confidential, then Texas will be put at a severe competitive disadvantage and it will not be considered a business location," the letter said.

The attorney general's office ruled that the economic development department had "not demonstrated that the submitted information is protected trade secret information or commercial or financial information of a business prospect."

One reason why our only Governor might be anxious to keep this information out of your grubby little hands is because he knows fully well that throwing millions of dollars in tax breaks at a big corporation is often a lousy investment. Notice in this story that the state of Washington is dangling over $3 billion in front of Boeing as well. I think we've identified a new growth segment for the decade.

Notice the argument about trade secrets in that first story. It comes up again in another context.

Companies clamoring for state tax dollars that serve the needy are insisting that their bid proposals be kept a closely guarded secret.

At least 11 companies are making legal arguments to Attorney General Greg Abbott that, if successful, could make agencies serving Texas' most vulnerable populations far less subject to public scrutiny.

The companies are seeking consulting contracts to help the Texas Health and Human Services Commission consolidate 12 social services agencies into five.

The success or failure of the consolidation project and another subsequent wave of privatization could have serious impacts on the elderly, mentally ill or mentally retarded, physically disabled, abused children and low income families.

One potential contractor simply wants to protect Social Security numbers already exempt under the Texas Public Information Act, while a sole proprietorship seeks to protect personal financial information.

But some firms offering to help the state consolidate health and human services agencies argue the public shouldn't know which or how many individuals are actually working on a given project or what their experience level is.

Several companies claim that even "executive summaries" of their bids to do state business contain valuable trade secrets that would seriously damage the companies if revealed.

Well, then, maybe that's a good argument against privatization. How are we going to know that all of those vaunted claims about savings and efficiencies aren't a pile of cow chips if we can't see the books? I'm not going to take the government's word for it and neither should you.

And of course, it wouldn't be a story about Governor Perry and privatization if there weren't a bit about one of his pals profiting from the whole thing. For all I know, Ray Sullivan is the best person for the job. Sure is nice how these things work themselves out, though, isn't it?

NYT link via Atrios.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 10, 2003 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

How are we going to know that all of those vaunted claims about savings and efficiencies aren't a pile of cow chips if we can't see the books?

By looking at our tax bills? Simple, I know, but I'm a simple man.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on November 11, 2003 10:41 PM