AUSTIN – Six policy and grassroots organizations from the left, right, and center have coalesced to form the Economic Development Transparency Coalition, and are signatories on a letter urging the Texas Legislature to increase transparency in government by repealing existing exceptions to transparency laws for economic development located in sections 551.087 and 552.131 of the Government Code. The Coalition is comprised of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Public Citizen, Texas Public Interest Research Group, Americans for Prosperity, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, and Grassroots America We the People. The Coalition debuted during Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. 

“Texans deserve to know what’s going on in their government, including and especially in the realm of economic development,” said Jess Fields, senior policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Texans on both the left and right can agree on this. The exceptions to the Public Information Act and Open Meetings Act for economic development should be repealed.”

“This bill provides a balance before the government writes the check,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, state director for Public Citizen. “Only with adequate public information can citizens challenge the assertions made by those seeking favors from the local governments, which often are in a race to the bottom to recruit business development and are dazzled by promises by some of the biggest companies in the world with the slickest salesmen and lobbyists.”  

"This is National Sunshine Week, a time to celebrate access to government information. Since open government is good government, it is time we shed the light of public scrutiny on decisions made behind closed doors between elected officials and private corporations,” said Peggy Venable, policy and legislative director at Americans for Prosperity – Texas. “Economic development deal making should not be exempt from public scrutiny as public trust is violated when deals are cut and citizens aren't informed during the process.”

“Whether you support increased investment in public transit infrastructure or advocate for property tax cuts—transparency is crucial to ensure that our spending priorities are in line with our values and that powerful special interests aren’t dictating spending,” said Sara Smith, state director of Texas Public Interest Research Group. “Transparency promotes fiscal responsibility, prevents corruption, and bolsters public confidence in government. With difficult budget choices ahead, Texas residents should be able to see how each dollar gets spent.” 

"Deciding how to spend taxpayer money is one of the most important functions of government. Deliberations and records dealing with economic development spending need to be accessible to citizens so they can hold their government accountable," said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
The message of the coalition is clear: Texans from both the left and right agree that transparency in economic development should be improved, and repealing Sections 551.087 and 552.131 of the Government Code would be a great place to start.
To read the letter, view:

The Honorable Jess Fields is the Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a former College Station City Councilman. 

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin, Texas.

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