Lawmakers Block Transparency Bill Aimed at Amazon and Similar Deals
Lawmakers unanimously killed a bill on Wednesday aimed at shedding light on economic packages Virginia offers big employers like Amazon.
The bill from Republican Delegate Michael Webert would have required details of such deals to be disclosed publicly at least 21 days before they could be signed by the governor.
“The public deserves to know what we're doing with their money and they deserve to know before the deal is finalized,” Webert said.
Webert said the bill was inspired by “some of the more recent deals,” in an allusion to the state's recent $1.85 billion deal with Amazon to add a new headquarters to Northern Virignia and a $70 million package the state offered Micron.
But Republicans Delegate Steve Landes and other lawmakers on the House Appropriations subcommittee said that while the bill’s aim was laudable, it would put Virginia at a disadvantage with other states courting large employers.
“I understand you're trying to get at transparency,” Landes said. “But I think it would put us at a very big disadvantage in getting an Amazon or a Micron or any other economic development project.”
Economic development deals have come under more scrutiny after Virginia landed an estimated 25,000 jobs and $2.5 billion in investment from Amazon for their new headquarters in Crystal City. The state chipped in $550 million in direct incentives tied to job creation. The rest of the funding would come in the form of higher education and transportation investments.
The incentives were approved by the Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission and announced in November, but still require passage by the full legislature.
Landes and other lawmakers said that setup allowed lawmakers a seat at the table through the MEI, and final approval through the legislature.
The Amazon deal has attracted attention in part because it requires the state to withhold as much information as it can under state open record law.
Megan Rhyne, who heads the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said citizens deserved to know about those provisions in advance.
“We're told, you know, if we don't get it, that the business will go elsewhere,” Rhyne said. “That's a little bit like telling girls a few years ago that if you're too smart, you won't get asked to the prom.”
But Republican Delegate Charles Poindexter summed up the mood in the room when he passed a motion to table the bill.
“I really believe in principle was most everything you've said today,” Poindexter told Webert.
At the same time, “we have to deal with what is, not what I would like it to be,” he said. “And that's about I think what this is. We're in a situation where we have to deal with it and we don't know any other way.”