Secrets & subsidies

Secrets & subsidies

Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald remains adamant:

He will not, nor will other local “leaders,” release details of the region’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.

“The object is to be successful,” the ACE told the Post-Gazette last week. “Giving out our information to all the other cities, I think, would put us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Which continues to be a nonsensical thing to say, considering the bid deadline passed long ago. The object should be transparency.

Some other jurisdictions that put in bids for what Amazon calls “HQ2” have made public their bids, some heavily redacted. But enough information has been released to suggest very deep and long dives into taxpayer pockets.

Local governments here have denied media requests for what clearly is public information. That suggests not necessarily attempts to protect “proprietary” information but to blunt public outrage. Appeals now are before the state Office of Open Records.

The latest rationale for not letting the public see what its public officials propose they pay for is that there are nondisclosure agreements with private property owners whose sites are part of the proposal.

But that’s specious as well.

A public entity is pledging public money – easily millions and, perhaps, hundreds of millions of dollars. And the public does not have a right to see the potential deal?

That’s ludicrous. Transparency in government should be the baseline, not an option. Open government is must.

It once was written that time and chance reveal all secrets. But when it comes to your government pledging your money to a private company, transparency should not be left to chance.

The time is long past for Allegheny and Pittsburgh officials to make public the Amazon bid – down to the last cent. The public’s business is not governments’ secret to keep.

Here’s an interesting tale:

As the Trib reported it, Allegiant Air will begin seasonal flights from Pittsburgh International Airport to Charleston, S.C., in April. At the same time, year-round service will begin to Sarasota, Fla.

And as has become the per usual, the public appears to be paying a premium (above and beyond ticket purchases, that is) for the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s version of “progress.”

An authority spokesman says a “small marketing incentive” is being paid to Allegiant. The amount? Shhhhhhhh! Secret!

Now, the really interesting part is that, at the same time, Allegiant is adding flights to Lehigh Valley International Airport in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

But it didn’t cost the local airport authority there a thing. At least that’s the information Tom Shortell has. He’s a reporter at The Morning Call in Allentown. We traded a few emails last week.

As far as any subsidy for Allegiant goes, “Our (airport) authority hasn’t authorized anything along those lines,” Shortell told me. “They would be hard-pressed to offer something like that right now – they’re only a year removed from crushing debt and are still ramping up long-deferred repairs and hires.”

So, again, why is the Allegheny County Airport Authority subsidizing service when others aren’t?

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).