Why is candor bad for business?


March 25, 2005

As they showered generosity on corporations, it appears that North Carolina agencies were being stingy in another area: the public’s right to know what was in all those incentive packages.

State Sen. David Hoyle has a plan to address the alleged foot-dragging. The Gaston County Democrat wants details to be released as soon as the local or state agency announces a project.

Hoyle’s proposal stands in stark contrast to the current state of affairs, where the N.C. Department of Commerce took months to disclose information on deals requested by Merck, Boeing, Dell and R.J. Reynolds.

Unfortunately, the various wheelers and dealers seem to regard open government as bad for business. They cite fears that "trade secrets" will slip out. It’s worth asking whether they have evidence from past cases where disclosing information about an incentives package actually gave the competition a leg up.

On second thought, never mind. If they have such evidence, they probably think that qualifies as a trade secret, too.

There’s nothing wrong with standing up for business. Business brings jobs and pays the salaries that are the economic lifeblood of any community.

Hoyle himself as a reputation as one of the most business-friendly lawmakers in Raleigh. He wouldn’t try to open up this process if he thought it stood a chance of harming a company’s interests. He doubts that businesses would share truly critical information with the government, anyway.

But opening up the workings of government is also essential to our way of life. Making the incentives information known immediately would reassure residents and taxpayers that no one was trying to hide anything.

This situation reminds us of the old saying about the man who was given a hammer – eventually he saw everything in the world as a nail.

In this case, the hammer is secrecy and the nails are the principles of open, responsive and accountable government.

It’s great that companies bring jobs to our state and improve the tax base. However, boosting the economy while simultaneously chipping away at the public’s right to know does not represent an acceptable trade-off.

© 2005 Freedom ENC Communications

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