In Opposition to Backroom Deals for Private Gain at Public Expense

By David C. Kyler, Executive Director, Center for a Sustainable Coast

Given current efforts to promote fiscal responsibility in government, it is ironic that a flagrantly irresponsible public-private partnership bill (HB218) is being promoted in Georgia's General Assembly. This ill-considered measure would allow arrangements made by local governments and development authorities with private promoters to be hidden from the public until after sweet-deal contracts are signed.

For many years, government giveaways to corporate players that pit one community against another have been known to be the worst kind of welfare capitalism, hurting the public instead of helping us. Doubly ironic, if not downright two-faced, is that many of the same politicians who condemn public funding for social programs targeting the low income are among the first in line to fork over public resources and tax breaks worth billions to private ventures in the name of economic progress – with no guarantee of results, virtually no accountability, and little on record to bolster confidence.

In the late 1990's Time Magazine, hardly a radical left-wing journal, ran a revealing series of articles (What Corporate Welfare Costs You) providing overwhelming evidence that lavish government handouts to corporations rarely produce net benefits for the public. Numerous other investigations and studies have found much the same thing – a little searching around on the Web produces rafts of compelling proof.

Making it lawful to keep these negotiations secret until after they become legally binding would deprive the public of constitutional control over the use of public resources -- monetary and otherwise. Such covert operations sponsored in the name of economic development are likely to turn Georgia’s tax dollars and natural resources into abusive private profits that benefit only a privileged few at the expense of the vast majority.

Corporate welfare and the backroom bargaining that enable it are promoted by those who gain the greatest – namely the most opportunistic segment of the business sector, including many people in high places who own a piece of the action – and well-meaning but easily misled public officials who simply don't understand when they are making a fool’s bargain. Passing this bill would deny Georgians basic open- government assurances that safeguard the public, encouraging special-interest manipulation and misuse of public funds.

As others have said, the need to attract new jobs shouldn’t trump the public’s right to know what is being done with tax money, especially projects that might adversely affect the quality of life and property value of Georgia citizens. Moreover, I would remind our public officials that not all jobs are worth creating, and not all employers will be responsible members of our communities unless they are held publicly accountable. Secret deals made behind closed doors, promoted and legalized by HB218, would work directly against that crucial accountability.
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