Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development gets a D+ for transparency

This morning, I arrived at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) to attend a GOED board meeting at 10 a.m. No one was there. Apparently, the meeting had been postponed until May 26. The funny thing is that I had checked GOED’s website at 9:30 a.m., and it gave no indication that the meeting date had been changed.

After leaving, I checked the Utah’s Public Meeting Notice Website, and it was also silent about the change. And I wasn’t the only one who was fooled. The receptionist at GOED said “a lot” of people had showed up for the meeting this morning.

While this anecdote illustrates only one instance of failure to communicate with the public, it is evidence of a larger problem – a systemic lack of transparency with Utah’s government economic development programs.

In 2007, Good Jobs First gave Utah an F grade for the amount of information it discloses about its corporate subsidy programs. In December 2010, it gave Utah a D+ for transparency, a slight improvement.

GOED does publish some information about its government economic development programs, and a call to its office will usually reap some helpful information, but GOED has a long way to go to provide Utah citizens the information they need to hold the government agency accountable.

Based on these reports from Good Jobs First and my experience working with GOED, here is a short list of things GOED can do to become more transparent:

  • Publish data on actual amounts of incentives offered and economic activity produced. GOED publishes amounts of projected tax revenue, jobs, wages and capital investment they hope a tax incentive package will produce, and how much money companies can potentially earn in tax rebates and credits, but it does not publish how much in incentives it actually doles out or how much economic activity subsidized companies actually produce. GOED has offered companies more than $450 million in tax benefits in the past six years and made promises of billions of dollars of economic activity for the state; Utahns need to know what is actually happening. This data should be published every year and be compiled and calculated using a consistent methodology.
  • Publish more precise company information. Utahns need more precise information about companies that receive incentive offers from GOED. For example, GOED should publish the address of these companies as well as the location of their headquarters.
  • Provide more information on how corporate subsidy programs work. It should be much easier for Utah citizens to find out how the application process for obtaining incentives works, who qualifies for incentives, how GOED calculates its projections, etc. Such information on GOED’s website is sparse and often vague.
  • Give advance notice about public meetings. As noted above, the GOED board often changes the date, time and location of its monthly meetings with little or no notice. Whether it is required by law or not, GOED should update its website more regularly and give at least 72 hours’ notice before holding board meetings or changing them.

Makings these steps to improve GOED’s transparency will help Utahns understand what GOED does and whether it delivers on its promises. Utahns have a right to know this information, especially when hundreds of millions of tax dollars are at stake.