State Clickson Secrecy

April 29, 2018 GMT

Online retailing giant Amazon has included Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on its short list of prospective sites for its second headquarters, which it says will create 50,000 good-paying jobs and $5 billion in investment over 10 years. Texas is the only other state with two sites on the list. Northeast Pennsylvania submitted a proposal through the regional economic development agency, Penn’s Northeast, but didn’t make the cut. That doesn’t mean that your money isn’t going to help lure Amazon to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. So far, the Wolf administration doesn’t want you to know how much. The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh proposals include state incentive packages, as did other proposals that Amazon eliminated. Recently, the Morning Call of Allentown won a case before the state Office of Open Records, in which it sought the state data regarding a proposal to Amazon for the Lehigh Valley. Rather than comply, the Wolf administration sued to overturn the order, 30 days after the OOR decision. It contends that public disclosure of the incentives would harm Pennsylvania’s prospects because other contenders could change their offers upon learning of Pennsylvania’s details. But state and local financial incentives are only one aspect of the applications. Amazon laid out an exhaustive and specific set of conditions when it sought proposals. It’s not clear why taxpayers should not know how much money the state government plans to give to Amazon, which in February passed Microsoft to become the world’s third-most-valuable company, with market capitalization of $702.46 billion. It trails only Apple and Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Late last year Rob Wonderling, president of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Pennsylvania planned to offer Amazon more than $1 billion in tax incentives. According to the administration, package details will be revealed when Amazon makes its decision, probably by the end of this year. And, it says, the package will have to be approved by the Legislature. But the Legislature and taxpayers would be presented with a fait accompli if Amazon selects Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. While worrying that revealing the state’s offer could cause other applicants to upgrade their packages, the administration seems unconcerned that Amazon might change its decision if the Legislature doesn’t approve the incentives later. And the administration now is out to set a terrible precedent by hiding incentive packages from the people who pay for them. It should release the information.