Public-Private Cooperation (Wink! Wink!)

From Stateline‘s Josh Goodman comes one of the least surprising ledes of the year:

Several states, most of them led by Republican governors, have experimented in recent years with the idea of turning their economic development agencies over to semi-private management. The results have not been uniformly successful. Many of these organizations are struggling to balance job creation with public accountability.

Goodman goes on to report serious problems for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a Scott Walker policy love child that made loans to businesses with little if any oversight or accountability, leading to the recent resignation of WEDC’s chief financial officer. And Wisconsin’s not alone:

Similar semi-private agencies in other states have had their share of controversies. Both the Arizona Commerce Authority and JobsOhio have been lighting rods for criticism, with opponents arguing that they haven’t been transparent enough about which companies receive financial aid and how they are selected. JobsOhio’s future is also clouded by litigation challenging the organization’s constitutionality and the legality of its planned primary funding source, the lease of state liquor stores.

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis television station WTHR reported this week that Indiana State Senator Mike Delph introduced legislation requiring the partially privatized Indiana Economic Development Corporation to report how many of the jobs companies promise under its deals end up being created. Those numbers are currently kept private. “The bottom line is people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” Delph said.

Yep, that is the bottom line. Trouble is, Republicans who view the public sector as a bunch of illegitimate ripoff artists and worship private sector “job creators” tend to view “public-private partnerships” as sort of a repatriation program for “looted” money. Accountability to the public for use of public funds, whether we’re talking about business loans or school vouchers, is for them the lowest possible priority when it ought to be Job One.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.