How to Improve Economic Development Transparency

State considers changes to economic development disclosure

The state is looking to improve its transparency and is targeting its economic development reports, according to MIRS, a Lansing-insider newsletter.

The state received suboptimal ratings from the Public Interest Research Group and is seeking to improve its position. It is good that the administration is looking to make these programs more transparent. Under current policies, private companies will receive roughly $800 million in subsidies in the upcoming fiscal year, and taxpayers will not be allowed to know which companies are receiving their money.

The state’s legacy tax credit programs are the least transparent. Michigan is not signing any new tax credit agreements with firms, but nevertheless, is making good on the deals it made in the past. This amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in foregone tax revenue and comes at a time when the state is trying to find $1.2 billion to improve the roads.

These corporate welfare deals are questionable in their effectiveness, but the lack of transparency about them is outrageous. Although this information used to be made public, the state has changed its mind in recent years, and now the receipt of these tax credits is considered confidential tax information and thus nondisclosable.

This information should be made public again. Taxpayers should also be able to get a project-by-project breakdown of estimated and actual jobs and costs, as we wrote with PIRGIM last year. It is about time that policymakers revisit this issue.