Monday, August 9, 2010

Our View - Public has a right to know about tax credits

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 29, 2009

Our View - Public has a right to know about tax credits

Although the line might be cliché, "sunshine is the best disinfectant" when it comes to government openness.

That's why we're glad to hear the recent controversy surrounding Iowa's film tax credits is getting Iowans to wonder why state law limits the amount of information that can be released about the recipients of and applicants for nearly 30 types of tax breaks. At the very least, all this high-profile attention being paid to alleged abuses of the film tax credits finally clearly demonstrates the danger of claiming that such information needs to stay in the shadows and claiming that the release of such information would "serve no public purpose."

State leaders seem to be getting the message as well. Last week, they took the unusual step of releasing information about the 157 film projects that have applied for tax credits. And, just as importantly, they specified how much money was awarded to the 22 projects that have completed filming -- awards that range from $60,000 to $5.8 million.

"This particular situation is very much like the other instances that have raised outrage over the last couple of years, like CIETC," Kathleen Richardson, executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, told The Des Moines Register. "It involves sloppiness to malfeasance in government that might not have occurred had there been transparency."

If a company wants to use public funds for a project -- from filmmaking, to wage benefits, to historic preservation, to energy alternatives -- then they need to prove to the public that the money is a good investment.

Although some of the other tax credits similarly exempted from the open records law don't have the flash and sizzle of tax credits for the film industry, they have at least as much potential for abuse if withheld from public scrutiny. If our state leaders really want to make sure that Iowans aren't being played for suckers by other industries, they then need to open the window, let the sunshine in and allow Iowans to see how their tax dollars are being spent.

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