The fights between the press and government about public access go on all the time. Too often they are seen as battles between the media and government officials, but this year an emerging altercation is much more than that. Itâ€™s about the taxpayersâ€™ right to know in advance about how much of their money will be spent to lure industries into the state.
Weâ€™ve been reading about these deals for the past year. Tax breaks totaling nearly $1 billion have been awarded to the likes of Boeing, Merck and Dell. After Dell accepted the incentive and announced plans to locate in North Carolina, newspapers still couldnâ€™t get access to information on their negotiation. It took a lawsuit filed by The Carolina Journal and the North Carolina Press Association to force the N.C. Department of Commerce to comply.
Providing tax breaks to lure big industry is acceptable. In fact, itâ€™s almost unavoidable if the state is going to compete with its neighbors. The problem is that state officials are negotiating these deals in secret, and they seem to think itâ€™s OK to keep it secret.
Current state law makes all records and meetings related to economic development secret until the deal is concluded. That means we find out how much of our tax money is sacrificed after the fact. Itâ€™s almost like giving the state a blank check.
During the current legislative session, the North Carolina Press Association will be introducing a bill requiring that information about incentives be open from the beginning of negotiations. This is nothing more than opening up government to the public scrutiny it should be able to withstand. Such procedures have been used without any problems in other states.
We urge lawmakers to support this bill or count yourself among those who think itâ€™s none of the taxpayersâ€™ business to know how the state spends billions on incentives.