The Details Of Spending $750 Million In Taxpayer Funds Should Not Be A Secret
by Paul Wolf - posted 12:35 am, November 6, 2014
When $750 million dollars of taxpayer funds are being spent to assist a private company like SolarCity, any agreements entered into with the State should be available to the public. Channel 4 News filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain a copy of the agreement between the State (the Research Foundation of the State University of New York) and SolarCity. The State responded to Channel 4’s request be providing a copy of the agreement with large portions of information blacked out.
On their web site Channel 4 states the following:
“Exactly how and when will SolarCity spend that $5 billion dollars in Buffalo? That part of the contract is blacked out.
And how many of those 2900 jobs will be created each year? It’s impossible to know, because the page in the contract labeled “Investment and Job Milestones” is a big black box.
According to the contract, if the state has to terminate the agreement with SolarCity, it will still have to pay some taxpayer money. That part, too, is blacked out.
There is even a section that says the state can reveal the “existence of and the total contribution amounts” only if it has SolarCity’s permission.”
One of the reasons that I did not vote to re-elect Andrew Cuomo is that his administration has a terrible record on open government. This is just another example of refusing to release information that the news media and the public should not stand for.
The reason provided by the State to redact information is that the contract contains trade secrets and other key commercial terms that if disclosed would likely cause substantial competitive injury. An additional reason is that the Securities and Exchange Commission prevents disclosure of some information at this time but that soon additional information will be able to be disclosed.
Even Robert Freeman the Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government a highly respected authority on the Freedom of Information Law found found the amount of information redacted troubling. As reported by Channel 4 Freeman stated:
“I don’t know why items involving programs contributions either by the Foundation or by SolarCity should be redacted. I don’t know why investment milestones should be redacted. And I question how or why disclosure of those kinds of items in their entirety in many instances would cause injury either to the Foundation or to SolarCity,”
This is not the first time a government official has made the trade secret argument as a reason for not releasing information to the public. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz initially refused to release the hourly rate being paid by the County to a law firm assisting with lease negotiations for the Buffalo Bills on the basis that such information was a trade secret. After Freeman stated that refusing to release the hourly rate was “unjustifiable” and the Buffalo News filed an appeal, the hourly rate was released to the public.
Hopefully news media pressure and public outrage will result in the SolarCity contract details being released to the public.