By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to close off public access to company information used to decide economic development grants was withdrawn Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Bo Watson of Hixson said that the decision followed a failure to reach a compromise.
“I just don’t think we could get the language right to satisfy everybody’s needs,” Watson said. “The administration sort of recognized that they were kind of at an impasse in trying to get the language right, and said we’ll just try this next year.”
Officials with the state Department of Economic and Community Development had argued the measure would allow the state to ask for more details about businesses seeking cash grants while assuring companies that their proprietary information would not become public.
But the breadth of information the administration wanted to keep secret — including the identity of the owners of companies receiving grants — led the proposal to run into problems among Republican leaders in the Legislature.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters in February that he would block a floor vote unless the bill contained a provision to keep ownership information open to the public.
“Some will argue that maybe ownership shouldn’t be divulged, that they don’t want their names divulged,” the Blountville Republican said at the time. “Well, then don’t ask for a grant. It’s pretty simple.”
But administration officials insisted that state’s economic development prospects would dry up if that ownership information became publicly available.
“That’s been the sticking point,” Watson said. “How to get this necessary information that the state needs to make good decisions, and at the same time allow that information to be made public when it’s private ownership.”
Open government advocates have argued that state law already provides for closing off proprietary information for a period of five years.
The closed records bill was meant as a companion to another Haslam measure to increase the amount of cash grants available to companies looking to invest in Tennessee. That measure has passed the House unanimously and was scheduled for a Senate vote on Thursday.
The measure would allow the state to provide Fast Track grants for retrofitting, relocation, office upgrades or temporary space for companies investing in Tennessee.
The current Fast Track program is limited to jobs training and infrastructure improvements. The state has appropriated $217 million to the program over the last three budget years and Haslam has proposed pouring another $80 million for the current and upcoming budget year.
Read SB2207 and HB2344 at http://capitol.tn.gov