This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on March 17, 2015.

Texans believe in government transparency and accountability. For this reason, we have some of the most advanced open-government initiatives in the nation. Yet one policy area remains outside the view of the general public: economic development.

When local governments cut deals that result in millions in incentives, they can do it behind closed doors in “executive session” — legally — thanks to exceptions to the Open Meetings and Public Information Acts for “economic development negotiations.”

These provisions, sections 551.087 and 552.131 of the Government Code, allow secret negotiations between corporations seeking taxpayer handouts and local government officials. But they do much more than that.

Because of these exceptions, the public is kept in the dark about how their money is used to lure businesses through a variety of cash, land, tax abatement, appraisal limitation and other economic development incentives.

The Open Meetings exception means that, by the time an economic development deal comes up for a vote, the elected officials have already discussed it at length and, often, decided how they are going to vote. The decision-making process, which is open to public view for virtually every other policy issue, is entirely behind closed doors for economic development deals.

The exceptions also have the effect of shutting out journalists and other public watchdogs to whom taxpayers look for information about government. Information related to economic development negotiations is completely shielded from public information act requests.

This is why journalists find it hard to report on economic development deals until after they’re struck — it’s not that they don’t want to cover the decisions governments make behind closed doors. It’s that they can’t get the information.

Sections 551.087 and 552.131 create a shield of secrecy beneath which local government officials deliberate without taxpayer input or scrutiny. Until these deals come to a public vote, taxpayers usually have little to no idea what’s in them.

Whether you agree with economic development incentives as a policy matter, most would agree that taxpayers deserve to see the decisions that are made by their government.

It wasn’t always this way. The modern era of economic development in Texas began back in the late 1970s and then really kicked into gear with a constitutional amendment in 1987 that allowed the use of public funds for economic development incentives. During this time, while economic development decisions and information were available to the public, economic development still occurred.

In 1999, however, the game changed dramatically. That was when the transparency exceptions passed through the Legislature, buried in a bill that contained many more mundane changes. After that, the floodgates opened for secret discussion and negotiation.

Texans from across the political spectrum value open government. There may be no single issue that more surely unites people on both the left and the right. In spite of our differences, we value government of, by and for the people.

That’s why the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act matter and why they are so invaluable. They help all of us, no matter out political beliefs, to see what’s happening in our government.

Thankfully, the Texas Legislature now has a chance to correct this and restore the original intent of these open-government laws. To put it mildly, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Public Citizen don’t always agree. But we do agree on transparency. That’s why, together, we want to see these exceptions abolished.

Let’s shine a light on economic development, as we do for everything else government does.

Fields is a senior policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Smith is the director of the Texas office of Public Citizen.