Malloy wants economic development shielded from FOI provisions
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said it may be necessary for the state to consider changes to the Freedom of Information Act to attract businesses to Connecticut by shielding certain aspects of economic development deals from public scrutiny.
"What people are saying -- and this is true (of) some of the larger employers we're trying to attract to the state -- is you're asking us to give you trade secrets. We're not going to give you trade secrets if you're going to distribute them to everybody, meaning the people we compete with," Malloy said in a brief interview Thursday. "I think people understand that when we're trying to attract jobs, requiring people to disclose information that their competitors can then use against them is not the best way."
But the governor said he remains committed to transparency and blamed the controversial FOIA changes shot down during last week's special legislative session on his Department of Economic and Community Development.
"Quite frankly, this came out of DECD. This didn't come out of my office," Malloy said. "They have some decisions to make. If it can be more finely tuned to protect trade secrets, then I think you'd see (the legislation) come back."
To combat stagnant job growth and alter the perception that Connecticut is anti-business, Malloy and past governors have aggressively courted new companies to move here and existing ones to remain through tax breaks and other financial incentives.
A recent review by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers of 63 deals between companies and the state DECD found 29 companies that over the years collectively received more than $86 million in loans or tax credits but failed to meet contractual obligations.
Buried within last week's massive bill wrapping up some loose ends from the just-concluded 2012 session was language further shielding such deals from public scrutiny. The proposal exempted from disclosure all records obtained by a state or quasi-public agency related to a business' request for expansion or relocation aid if such data "could" adversely affect either parties' financial interests.
The overall legislation was negotiated by the Malloy administration and legislative leaders. The FOIA language was discovered at the last minute by the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and ultimately removed before the larger bill was passed.
"This was a sneaky amendment," said Tom Scheffey, the Freedom of Information Council's past president. "The Freedom of Information Act has an awful lot of exceptions (and) doesn't apply to private business, so this is naturally a gray area. But it is a particularly sensitive area because the public really wants to know what public officials are doing in its name and what tax benefits are being given away."
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who worked to have the changes removed from the bill, said the governor's budget office -- the Office of Policy and Management -- was involved. "This was specific language that OPM, the administration, gave and inserted," McKinney said.
The DECD, in a statement Friday, said: "It is imperative that we maintain an open, transparent government ... At the same time we need to ensure appropriate protections are in place for those private-sector businesses exploring opportunities to invest and grow in our state. We will continue to evaluate whether current FOI laws strike the proper balance between these equally important objectives."
McKinney said he is unaware of any economic development deals jeopardized because of the FOIA. "The public has a right to know where their money's going," he said.
"I personally would rather give up an economic development deal than give up the Freedom of Information Act."