When did the spending of public money by public officials become none of the public's business in Oklahoma?
Gov. Kevin Stitt refuses to lay out for state taxpayers just how much of their money he spent to lure an electric vehicle company to Pryor. (Stitt announced recently that Canoo, a Los Angeles-based company, will come to Pryor, promising the creation of 2,000 jobs.)
Stitt and other officials aren't talking about the state's incentive package, not even the total value of the package, which Canoo's CEO put at more than $300 million. State leaders last week denied a CNHI open records request seeking the details of the deal.
Stitt did acknowledge using the taxpayer-funded Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund to help close the deal. Again, he would not say how much he spent of that $20 million fund, and for what.
All Stitt has said is that right now the details are "private.”
State Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, the Senate’s budget chair, told us he doesn't know the details.
State Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, the House's budget chair, also told us he doesn't know the details. “I have the same questions. What did we offer to land this guy?”
Republican state Treasurer Randy McDaniel told us he also has been kept in the dark.
Where there is no transparency, there is no accountability and there is no trust.
What's more, Canoo is a start-up company that has yet to manufacture electric vehicles, so it is a risk. We hope the company can deliver, but what clawback provisions did the governor include in the agreement if Canoo doesn't keep up its end of the deal? Was the state able to negotiate above-average wages and benefits, including healthcare? Let's be honest, wages in rural Oklahoma are less than they are in tech hot spots such as Austin, and that amounts to another form of subsidy.
Commerce Department officials said the details will be made public later, but that is too open-ended and the state should have been prepared to release the details when it made its official announcement.
Joey Senat, an Oklahoma State University associate professor who specializes in the state’s open records and open meetings law, said he believes the state is misapplying the open records law, but even if it is not, the provision simply states that they “may” withhold the information. With a deal now publicly announced, Senat said the state should release the information.
“When you have secrecy like this, it breeds incompetency, inefficiency and corruption,” he said. “They should err on the side of transparency. It’s not just the public right to know, it’s a public need to know.”