A Hoosier’s Voice: Legislature should pry open IEDC’s closed door

This is a submitted piece from a concerned Hoosier, Clarke Kahlo.  If you have a story you would like to share about your experiences with the Access to Public Records Act, Open Door Law, or any other transparency issue in Indiana, please let us know.

I became concerned about the lack of transparency of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation last December after I approached its incentives programs staff about the application by Sallie Mae (Sallie Mae Bank).

SLM Corp had previously applied to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission for property tax abatement for a project to be located at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis. This is a booming area economically with high commercial activity and high residential property values. The state enabling statute for tax abatement restricts abatement to “economic revitalization areas”. I challenged the proposed abatement for several weeks prior to the scheduled public hearing and submitted all of my arguments in writing. A week prior to the hearing, I was notified that Sallie Mae had decided to withdraw its application.

At about the same time, I heard a news report that Sallie Mae had applied to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation for about $4 million in state-administered EDGE funding as a job-creation incentive for the project at Keystone the at the Crossing. I wanted to ensure that the applicant met all the eligibility and qualification requirements for the state program, and requested a copy of Sallie Mae’s application and the staff technical/compliance review of the application. I was informed by the agency’s counsel that the requested documents were not disclosable based on several claimed statutory exemptions to disclosability. They didn’t even offer to disclose with redactions.

Economic development agencies seem to have become semi-autonomous and lack public accountability, in my opinion based on this recent experience with the IEDC. SB 254 [which failed to after first reading] would require IEDC reporting and thus greater transparency to better enable the public to determine whether the programs are warranted and beneficial (and compliant). I hope that the bill receives a hearing by the Senate’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.

Clarke Kahlo
Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations