By Forrest Wilder
Originally published June 1, 2014
Rick Perry’s office refuses to release any information about the $40 million it’s offering Toyota to relocate to Texas, despite providing the Observer with similar information last year for a $12 million grant to Chevron.
The Observer and the Houston Chronicle both filed open records requests with the governor’s office after Perry announced in April the $40 million incentive grant to Toyota from the Texas Enterprise Fund. The governor’s office promotes the Enterprise Fund as a “deal-closing” program that helps bring jobs to Texas. But in some cases evidence suggests that the fund does little but line the pockets of companies planning to move to Texas anyway. For example, the Observer reported last year Chevron already had plans to develop an office tower in downtown Houston, provided scant justification that it was considering other locations in its application and told the governor’s office that it planned to use the $12 million grant to pay for employee relocation perks.
It would be interesting to know if something similar happened with the Toyota grant. Especially since company executives have said the $40 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant had little to do with the relocation from California to Plano.
In an open records request, I asked for Toyota’s application, for the contract between Toyota and the state, and for any other related documents. The request was nearly identical to the one I filed for documents related to the Chevron deal in July. But unlike the Chevron request, the governor’s office refused to release anything other than a handful of news clips. Instead, it sought an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office about whether it can keep the records hidden. Perry’s attorneys argue that releasing any information before the deal is finalized “would seriously disadvantage Texas by allowing other states to directly approach this entity with competing incentives.”
Now, it’s not unusual for a Texas agency to ask the attorney general to rule on open records matters. And it’s not unusual for government agencies to try to keep government documents secret on the basis of competitive harm.
But the rationale a Perry spokesperson gave to the Houston Chronicle on Friday is peculiar.
In a similar case, details on the state’s $12 million TEF grant to Chevron, including the company’s application, were released to the Texas Observer late last year.
“It’s not uncommon for us to announce the incentive offer without a finalized contract, or prior to finalization of the local incentive package,” Nashed said. “The Chevron contract was released post AG ruling.”
That last sentence—“The Chevron contract was released post AG ruling”—is simply not true.
My Chevron request was filed on July 16, and the governor’s office released 400 pages of information to me on July 30, before any attorney general ruling on my request. (You can view the entire set here.) Among those documents were several versions of the agreement between Chevron and the state of Texas, including a “draft execution copy.” The attorney general did issue a ruling in September, and the governor’s office released additional documents, such as an economic impact analysis, but the contract had already been released.
Nashed, the Perry spokesperson, wrote in an email that she was referring to Chevron’s application, not the contract itself, in the Chronicle article. “The statement in the Houston Chronicle should have read ‘the Chevron contract application was released post AG ruling’,” she wrote.
She also said that the main difference between the Chevron and Toyota cases is that the Chevron contract was executed on the day of my July request. But in the Toyota case, she wrote, “our office had not finalized the deal with Toyota.”
But the documents released to the Observer in the Chevron case didn’t include a finalized contract with signatures. All the contract versions were stamped “draft” and some included numerous revisions and comments in Microsoft Word.
The Chronicle also noted that officials with the city of Plano “were not concerned about releasing the details of their own local incentive offered to Toyota.”
The Toyota deal was a triumph for Perry. He scored—and then trumpeted—headlines like the AP’s from April 30: “Rick Perry Scores Big Win As Toyota Moves Headquarters To Texas.”
Toyota relocating to Texas is a big win—but it’s not clear what role, if any, Rick Perry or his Enterprise Fund played in it. The government documents that Perry’s office is refusing to release might help us answer that question out.