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Economic development exception to public records law would expand under commerce revamp

WRAL (6/4/2014): As part of a reorganization of how economic development activities are carried out in North Carolina, the General Assembly is considering broadening the public records exemption for tax incentives programs. 

Identical bills in the house and senate would shift job recruitment efforts from the N.C. Department of Commerce to a new non-profit corporation called the Economic Partnership of N.C. The bills state explicitly that the non-profit corporation is subject to the public records law, but then re-write the economic development exemption to remove a significant amount of information from the public view. 

Under the current law, when a government agency enters into negotiations with a business to offer development incentives, including tax breaks, records related to the deal become public once the business decides either to relocate or expand. If a business chooses not to accept the incentives and locates or expands elsewhere, the records still become public. The records remain confidential while the government and the business are negotiating. 

The proposal in the general assembly would remove from public view most records related to incentives when a company decides not to take them and locates or expands elsewhere. The only records that would remain in the public view are those that the non-profit agency submitted to the Department of Commerce related to the request for incentives.  

Removing these records from public view would make it difficult for the public to assess whether the new non-profit agency is functioning effectively in situations where a company decides to locate or expand elsewhere. 

Last month, the interim CEO of the Economic Partnership of N.C., Richard Lindenmuth, claimed that the public records law cost North Carolina its opportunity to land Toyota's new North American headquarters without offering any evidence that the law had affected Toyota's decision. 

Read WRAL's coverage of the bills here

Jonathan Jones,
Staff
6/5/2014 8:45 AM