Sunshine State Accidentally Releases Sunshine

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Florida has been turning out the lights on economic development, and now it is having trouble managing the release of less information.

Last week, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) accidentally released information on subsidy deals currently being negotiated by the state. Instead of sending a blank template for an upcoming subsidy disclosure website, DEO sent a database to Integrity Florida, a watchdog group that in turn shared it with journalists. Upon learning of its mistake, DEO demanded everyone destroy their copies claiming that publication of the list would harm the state’s recruitment efforts.

The gaffe comes as the Sunshine state has been growing opaque on jobs. Florida law prevents releasing information on subsidized companies for the first two years after deals are agreed to, and deals in negotiation are granted confidentiality. Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private development arm, discloses only partial information on subsidy recipients in its annual reports.

That’s a retreat from 2007, when the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development started posting information on deals in several programs. However, after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, the disclosure website disappeared (as did Florida’s Recovery Act website). More than a year ago, Good Jobs First asked about the lost information and DEO told us the data were merely being moved to a new website under the new Department of Economic Opportunity. But the data has yet to resurface.

The data leak last week shows that since January 2011, Florida committed $155 million to 270 subsidy deals that promised to create more than 32,000 jobs.

According to a blog by Aaron Deslatte from Orlando Sentinel, the state “flipped out” and Gov. Scott himself called the Sentinel’s editor trying to quash the story, but to no avail.

We predict the leak will not harm Florida’s economy, because economic development disclosure never has hurt any state’s business climate. We hope the episode will remind Floridians that its pioneering Open Records history has served it well.

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