Kansas leaves job subsidy data in the dark

BIG MONEY: Kansas has inked numerous deals with countless companies in a bet to improve the state’s economy, but critics say Kansas could be more transparent about how it goes about doing just that.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — A new report analyzing state government transparency surrounding economic development reveals that when it comes to subsidizing jobs, the Sunflower State has shoved its data where the sun doesn’t shine — so to speak.

Information compiled by Good Jobs First, a left-leaning national policy resource center based in Washington, D.C., revealed in late January that Kansas is one of only four states that do not provide any kind of data online for state economic development programs.

Other states on the wall of shame include Idaho, Delaware and Arkansas.

Nationwide, according to the report, economic development data transparency among the states has increased by leaps and bounds. When Good Jobs First began tracking the matter in 2007, only 23 states made economic development data available online to the public, but since then that figure has jumped to 46 states plus the District of Columbia.

“Transparency is of course no guarantee that a state is spending its economic development dollars wisely. But the absence of company-specific disclosure makes it impossible for the public to get at even the most basic return on investment, accountability or equity questions,” the report states.

From Maine to California and everywhere in between, countless public dollars are wrapped up in economic development programs. In Kansas, that primarily refers to the Promoting Employment Across Kansas program, which came under fire last fall after a less-than-perfect audit revealed more than a few blemishes on the state’s job subsidy initiative.

Auditors announced in September that a thorough examination had revealed the Kansas Department of Commerce had exceeded PEAK’s $6 million spending cap by authorizing $7.5 million in incentives for the current fiscal year, and surpassed the limit for the next decade by $22.5 million.

“We found assessing the benefits of the PEAK program is difficult because the Department of Commerce has not compiled meaningful information on the program,” state auditor Katrin Osterhaus told lawmakers while presenting the findings.

Dan Lara, communications director for the Department of Commerce, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, as Gov. Sam Brownback had closed much of the state’s executive branch because of heavy snowfall.

“The recent mad dash by 22 states to prepare lucrative bids for Boeing‘s 777X airliner jobs is an indication that subsidies remain an entrenched feature of economic development policy,” the Good Jobs First report stated.

“The conclusion is clear: the accountability movement has made great advances but still has a long way to go before job subsidies are truly transparent,” it added.

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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