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Governor Jan Brewer and legislative leaders recently announced the introduction of a “jobs bill,” which includes a measure that would replace the Arizona Department of Commerce with a new quasi-public board called the Arizona Commerce Authority. The current proposal includes an annual $25 million “deal-closing fund” that the Arizona Commerce Authority would administer to attract businesses to the state.
Upon the announcement, the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG) raised concerns over the lack of transparency and accountability for the Arizona Commerce Authority.
“Transparency is the best way to make programs more efficient and accountable to the public. Many of Arizona’s elected officials campaigned on promises of increased government transparency and job creation,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for Arizona PIRG. “If there isn’t significant transparency included in the Arizona Commerce Authority, taxpayer dollars that would have been used to grow jobs in Arizona could be wasted.”
To achieve transparency for the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona PIRG recommended implementing these safeguards to protect the public interest:
- Rules should exclude companies from making decisions to hand out taxpayer-financed subsidies for their own related industries or affiliated companies.
- All meetings of the Arizona Commerce Authority should be fully public, with minutes and agendas posted online. The Arizona Commerce Authority should abide by existing open records and open meeting laws.
- The public should be allowed to see what companies receive public subsidies and companies receiving public subsidies should be required to report on the number of jobs promised and actually created.
- To ensure best value, there should be taxpayer guarantees for every subsidy program. Other states have programs to recapture public subsidies when recipients don't deliver on promises. Arizona taxpayers deserve the same protections.
“It's good that Governor Brewer and our legislative leaders are looking to improve how Arizona spends economic development dollars,” stated Unrein. “But without increased transparency and accountability, it will be difficult – if not impossible – to tell if state government actually has improved how it spends those economic development dollars.”
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