FOI Commission rules Connecticut’s incentive offer to Amazon a trade secret

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The Freedom of Information Commission has ruled that the state is not required to disclose tax incentives offered as part of its failed bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. 

The commission voted last month to adopt a hearing officer’s report stating that the incentives qualify as a trade secret under an exemption from the state’s Freedom of Information law.

Commissioner Matthew Streeter, acting as the hearing officer, wrote in the report dated Oct. 3 that disclosing the incentives would “reveal aspects of the state’s economic development strategy, enable (other) states to better their offers in their competition with Connecticut to attract and keep private business, and give an advantage to private businesses in future negotiations with the state for economic incentives.”  

The Record-Journal filed an appeal with the commission in January, seeking the full proposal offered to Amazon as part of the state's effort to recruit the online retailer to open its second headquarters in Hartford or Stamford. The state released the proposal but withheld two pages detailing economic initiatives offered as part of the pitch.

James Caley, an assistant attorney general representing the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said during an October meeting that disclosing the incentives could allow other states and businesses to figure out Connecticut 's strategy, thus the information should be exempt as a trade secret under the state's FOI law.

He also said that the initial argument was the result of state strategy, while any final agreement, which would be public, comes after negotiation with a company.  

Mike Savino, the Record-Journal’s local and state editor, who filed the complaint, argued the public wouldn’t be able to determine the state’s strategy by having the tax incentive information. Savino pointed out that other states and cities, like Boston, which bid for Amazon’s headquarters publicly disclosed their full offers, meaning Connecticut wouldn’t be at a disadvantage against those cities. 

Savino also argued that the state would be required under FOI to disclose the finalized negotiated incentives if Connecticut was chosen by Amazon, so the initially offered incentives should not be treated differently.

Streeter sided with Caley, writing that final agreements are fully negotiated and do not always mirror what is initially offered.

“The initial offer and the final economic aid package are similar in that they both demonstrate aspects of the state’s economic development strategy,” he wrote, “but disclosure of the final package does not reveal the initial offer, which can change significantly during negotiations.”


Twitter: @MatthewZabierek


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