A provision in Idaho law allows the state’s commerce department to shield its efforts to lure businesses to the state using tax incentives. One state lawmaker, a member of the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, says that should change.
Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, told IdahoReporter.com that he “absolutely” supports examining a change to a state code that would allow reporters and the general public some access to Idaho Department of Commerce documents relating to business recruitment efforts.
Specifically, Idaho Code 9-340D(6) exempts records “for the specific purpose of assisting a person to locate, maintain, invest in, or expand business operations in the state of Idaho” from public records requests, a provision inserted into state law in 1999.
The code section allowed the department to reject an IdahoReporter.com records’ request into the agency’s dealings with Clif Bar, which recently announced the construction of a multi-million dollar facility in Twin Falls. That deal, which officials said will be positive for the Magic Valley, was lubricated with millions in taxpayer money, including as much as $1.8 million from the state commerce department.
IdahoReporter.com was interested in how the department offered tax dollars to Clif Bar executives, but the agency denied the attempt. “By law, the Idaho State Legislature has exempted these type of records from disclosure,” wrote Megan Ronk, the agency’s chief administrative office, in a late-October letter.
Ronk, additionally, suggested that releasing some documents to the public or media might put proprietary information at risk.
“While it is a priority for us to be open and transparent with all of the business that occurs within our agency, the work of the Department of Commerce does give us access to proprietary private/corporate information that we handle with great care and sensitivity,” Ronk wrote. “The inability for us to handle private company information with confidentiality would likely result in many companies being unwilling to work with our state.”
Romrell suggested that the state and legislators could find some middle ground that would deliver transparency to taxpayers and privacy to businesses. The exemption grows more important as the commerce agency uses a new—and expensive—tool to attract new jobs to Idaho.
Earlier this year, lawmakers approved a $3 million Idaho Opportunity Fund, an account designed to provide cash for new infrastructure projects that would make cities and counties more attractive to business. Only Clif Bar has been approved for funding through the account, though more deals are in the works.
The city of Rupert may apply for funds to assist with infrastructure needs for a fruit processing plant scheduled to locate there.
Ronk told IdahoReporter.com she couldn’t release the names of businesses looking to utilize the fund because the agency signed non-disclosure agreements.