Court ruling preventing public from seeing how taxpayer money is spent

By Jaie Avila
WOIA/News 4 San Antonio
Originally published March 19, 2018

How much did San Antonio pay REO Speedwagon to play on New Year’s Eve? What kind of tax breaks are big corporations receiving to move here? The News 4 Trouble Shooters use the Texas Public Information Act to track how your tax dollars are spent.

However, a new weapon is being used to prevent us from keeping you informed.

In 2015 the Texas Supreme Court made what’s known as the Boeing decision. The ruling makes it easier for government agencies to block you from seeing the deals it makes with private businesses. The ruling has already been used to conceal public records more than 1800 times.

The State Supreme Court ruled government agencies can withhold information about the contracts they sign with private corporations if the release of that information might give competitors an advantage.

Those corporations are automatically notified by mail when a journalist or member of the public asks to look at those contracts so they can argue to keep the information secret.

“Companies that are contracting with or providing services for the government, in many cases now the public is not able to see that money, the flow of money, in some cases even the final contracts,” says Kelley Shannon of the Freedom of Information of Texas.

That makes it virtually impossible to track how your money is used, whether it’s government contracts to clean up after Hurricane Harvey or spending by your local school district. That kind of information was public for thirty years until the Texas Supreme Court changed things.

Now open government groups and the Texas Association of Broadcasters want the legislature to step in.

“The real solution is for the legislature to fix it because the legislature writes the laws. The legislature wrote this law originally and they know what they want, they know how important it is for us to be able to follow the money,” Shannon said.

Open government advocates hope to get the law changed during the 2019 session.