‘Talking points’ don’t jibe

Published 5:26 pm Friday, March 11, 2011

An editorial ran in last Wednesday’s edition of The Post-Searchlight expressing this newspaper’s distaste for proposed legislation currently being kicked around in the Georgia General Assembly. Senate Bill 159 would allow the legal veil of secrecy to fall over economic development negotiations and discussions with private parties.

Because all negotiations by public entities attempting to recruit private businesses involve either taxpayer money and/or publicly owned land, this is a bad bill and should concern every person who believes in open, transparent government.

The bill is sponsored by Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. Mullis happens to be the executive director of the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority.

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In essence, the amended law would allow “any state department, agency, board, bureau, commission, public corporation, or authority” to offer tax abatements, tax incentives, land and other enticements to private businesses without your knowledge until the deal is signed, sealed and delivered.

The initial version of the law would have given all government entities—cities, counties, boards of education, local development authorities—free reign to spend your money in secret. But, after a backlash from around the state, the current version only includes state agencies.

But along the lines of the “give an inch, take a mile” analogy, how long would it be before the local entities would conveniently involve the state office in any economic development projects, thus making the discussions and documents closed to the public? Don’t think it wouldn’t happen.

The proponents of this secrecy bill say it would create jobs and protect trade secrets of potential development prospects.


Laws are currently in place to protect trade secrets of private industry when dealing with government agencies. This bill is about spending taxpayer funds and giving away public land in secret and not having to answer citizens’ concerns.

Another “talking point” for the proponents is that the state has lost many developments to other states because offers and deals became public. But, as far as I can tell, no one is offering specific instances of this happening. If this were true, the bill sponsors would be yelling from the mountaintop about specifics.

If this bill were law a few years ago, the people of Early County would not have known about the proposed coal-fired plant along the banks of the Flint River until the deal was signed, sealed and delivered. There would have been no public meetings, no arguments for the project, no arguments against the project.

If this bill were law, your taxes could be increased to pay for abatements or incentives given to entering companies and you wouldn’t know until it was a done deal.

If this bill were law, it would set a very dangerous precedent against a system of open government and transparency. In this day and time, it is more vital than ever for you to know how and why your tax dollars are being spent. That right to know would be taken away with passage of this law.

I urge you to contact Sen. John Bulloch and let him know how you feel about this anti-public bill. You can e-mail him at jbulloch@windstream.net, call him at his Atlanta office at (404) 656-0040, or call him at his Ochlocknee office at (229) 683-3420. You can also view a copy of the proposed bill by visiting www.thepostsearchlight.com.

Economic Development Trade Secrets Bill (PDF)