EDITORIAL: State officials keep confidential offer of taxpayer goodies for Amazon

Updated December 5, 2017 - 12:02 am

State officials doled out $1.3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives to bring Tesla’s battery factory to the Reno area. You can bet the package they put together to enter the Amazon lottery — the contest to land the company’s second headquarters — is even more lucrative.

But state taxpayers may never know.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has refused to provide even basic details of the proposal submitted to lure Amazon to Southern Nevada, opting instead to operate in a cloak of secrecy designed to keep state residents in the dark.

“The existence and nature of all discussions with the company,” said GOED Executive Director Steve Hill in a letter, “and all information related to the company’s business, including without limitation information related to the company’s plans, opportunities, proposed terms and know-how, whether via written, oral or other means of communication, are confidential information of the company.”

This is absurd gobbledygook.

Amazon purposely solicited offers from across the country in an effort to pit states and local governments against one another to see what locale would present the biggest gift basket. It should come as no surprise to the company that taxpayers in various jurisdictions might have an interest in holding their elected officials accountable for their generosity.

“When you can’t get any details, it becomes a lot more than skepticism,” said Barry Smith, president of the Nevada Press Association. “You start to worry things are being done under the table that aren’t to the benefit of the public.”

No kidding.

This isn’t about company trade secrets. Nobody is asking to see Amazon’s marketing strategies or its internal communications about long-term planning. The company is seeking lucrative tax breaks that will have an effect on Nevada’s fiscal future. State taxpayers have an absolute right to know what their representatives have promised in their names.

Nor should there be any argument that transparency will work against the state’s bid to land the project, which the company claims will generate $5 billion of investment along with 50,000 high-paying jobs. Nevada’s chances of success are minuscule, while other candidates, including some thought to be high on the company’s list, have already released at least partial information regarding their offers.

Obviously, any tax abatements and incentives would need legislative approval in a public setting if Amazon surprised the world and selected Nevada. But even if the company goes elsewhere, state taxpayers have a compelling interest in judging whether development officials acted appropriately and responsibly with their financial offer.

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