Sabin Withdraws Transparency Bill as AEDC Pledges Openness on Incentives

by Kyle Massey  on Thursday, Mar. 16, 2017 12:13 pm  

Warwick Sabin (file) (Bob Ocken)

State Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, withdrew a public transparency bill on Thursday after receiving assurances from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission that it will make data about state economic incentives to businesses readily available to the public online.

Sabin said he had pulled back the legislation, House Bill 2030, after AEDC Executive Director Mike Preston pledged to "implement the transparency and measurement framework" that would have been enacted had the bill become law.

The bill called for the AEDC to compile all data on the economic incentives the state gives to companies locating or expanding in the state, and to make it available online along with the terms, costs and requirements related to programs like tax credits, cash rebates and grants to spur economic development. The law would have made the requirements effective July 1, the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year, which would have placed a burden on the AEDC.

"I appreciate Representative Sabin's willingness to withdraw HB2030," Preston said in a statement. "I assured him that AEDC is committed to fulfilling the objectives of his legislation as soon as possible. Before I came to Arkansas, I was part of the effort to create the online Economic Development Incentives Portal at Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity. AEDC intends to create a similar online mechanism to further our commitment to efficiency, accountability and transparency."

Sabin told Arkansas Business that no particular concern set off his quest for more transparency on how the state is spending economic incentive money. 

"It was just an accumulation of reading I've done over the years on economic incentive programs," the lawmaker said. "Sometimes they work very well, but sometimes they don't, and it's important to for the public to have access to that data so that we can make better public policy, adjust strategies, and scrap approaches that aren't working."

Sabin said he was grateful to Preston's commitment to get a web portal up and running quickly. 

"Full transparency in the performance measurement of economic incentives will help to increase confidence in the management of our state's resources… I am glad that AEDC is moving in this direction, and based on his experience with a similar system in Florida, we are fortunate to have Mike Preston's leadership," he said.

Scott Hardin, an AEDC spokesman, said the agency is now aggregating data from several sources, including data from agencies like the Department of Rural Services and the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority that have recently merged with the AEDC. He expects much of the work to be done before the end of the fiscal year, and for the new website portal to be up and running shortly afterward.

In the meantime, each AEDC news release on businesses locating or expanding in Arkansas with incentives from the state will include a link to a project-specific web page that will list all incentives for each project. 

"The process is well underway, and until the new site is ready, information on each project will be as simple as a click away," Hardin said.



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