Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

6 Firms Take State Tax Breaks in Secret Governor Keeps Lid on Companies on Dole

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

6 Firms Take State Tax Breaks in Secret Governor Keeps Lid on Companies on Dole

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Somewhere in Georgia, six companies are enjoying a break in their income taxes, and state officials refuse to say who they are despite a growing chorus of criticism aimed at Gov. Roy Barnes.

Four more companies are applying for similar deals to take advantage of a 1998 law designed to lure large employers to job-starved rural parts of the state. Their identities haven't been revealed, either.

Barnes' spokeswoman would only release a four-sentence statement saying he favors open government.

"However, it is also his job as governor to protect the basic privacy of those who live and do business in this state," said Joselyn Butler.

State officials say they have been advised by the Attorney General's Office to keep the details secret because company tax information is exempt from the Open Records Act.

Other legal experts disagree.

The applications the companies submitted asking for the tax breaks should be open, said David Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association.

"The fact that somebody is looking to locate in Georgia -- and if there is documentation of that in the hands of a public body -- then that is an open record," he said. "The public needs to know what it costs to get that business."

The Atlanta Business Chronicle is suing the state to find out.

Editor David Allison said he thinks the tax breaks could be large and may contribute to a reduction in corporate income tax collections this year. Plus, there is no way for average citizens to decide if the program has been justified in terms of luring enough jobs to compensate for the tax loss.

The Department of Revenue's compliance director, Edward Many, said the state is checking to make sure companies getting the breaks are hiring the number of people promised and building the size factory planned.

"The nice thing about this process, and the reason I feel good about this process, is if they don't make their investment, there is a call-back provision in the agreement," Many said. …

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