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EDITORIAL: Transparency vital for state infrastructure bank

Lawmakers in 2017 passed Assembly Bill 389, which established the Nevada State Infrastructure Bank as a funding source for various transportation, housing and utility projects. There was little legislative opposition.

About 30 other states have created similar financing mechanisms. The purpose, according to the Nevada legislation, is “to provide loans and other financial assistance to various units of state and local government for the development, construction, repair, improvement, maintenance, decommissioning, operation and ownership of certain transportation facilities and utility infrastructure.”

At the urging of then-Gov. Steve Sisolak, lawmakers in 2021 approved $75 million to fund the enterprise.

Whether these types of “banks” offer the most efficient way of building infrastructure projects is debatable. But what shouldn’t be in dispute is the idea that a taxpayer-funded entity such as the Nevada State Infrastructure Bank must operate as transparently as possible.

Yet less than two years after receiving its “seed” money, Nevada Treasurer Zach Conine, whose office provides staff assistance to the bank, is pushing the opposite.

Senate Bill 10, introduced on behalf of the treasurer, would “require the bank to keep confidential certain information which is submitted or disclosed to, or otherwise obtained by, the bank, except under certain circumstances” while authorizing the bank’s board of directors to “hold a closed meeting or to close a portion of a meeting to receive, examine or consider information which the bank is required to keep confidential.”

Specifically, the proposal would prevent taxpayers from gaining access to most information on applications filed by agencies or nonprofits seeking low-interest loans backed by the same taxpayers.

There may indeed be proprietary information contained in certain loan applications. But this legislation paints with an extremely broad brush, starting from the premise that secrecy should prevail across the board rather than ensuring it is the exception and narrowly defined.

A 2011 paper from the National Employment Law Project favoring the creation of infrastructure banks warned that “advocates need to be actively engaged to ensure that SIBs use taxpayer money responsibly to finance projects that will truly improve our communities and create quality jobs.” But if important information is kept from the taxpayers, it becomes much more difficult to hold those involved accountable.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute notes, “Major transparency concerns in this bill should raise red flags for government watchdogs. Depriving taxpayers of the right to know who is engaging with the State Infrastructure Bank is wrong and would lend itself to increased opportunity for corruption.”

SB10 is bad policy and lawmakers should bury it.

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