Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order Wednesday establishing a formal collaboration between the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) with the recently-created Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation (ILBEDC).
Rauner said the public-private partnership will help the state attract businesses.
The new entity may not be subject to the same transparency requirements as other parts of state government.
“Illinois has been inadequate in our marketing of our state, in the sales effort for our state, and our promotion for our state,” Rauner said.
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Rauner first proposed partially privatizing DCEO last year, but the legislation stalled after passing in the House with an amendment requiring the change be reviewed after three years.
Any deals or incentives the corporation offers to companies will have to be approved by DCEO, and Rauner said he believes it will be able to act independently.
“The new corporation is going to be able to go out and be as aggressive and creative and recruit the people that they need to and whatever salaries they need to pay,” Rauner said. “They won’t be encumbered by the bureaucracy and the limitations that government has to operate under, but in the end, every deal, every transaction that binds the taxpayers and the people of Illinois will be approved by the Department of Commerce, and they will make their own decisions.”
In his remarks, Rauner said ILBEDC would be subject to same Freedom of Information Act requirements to turn over documents and records when requested. But DCEO director Jim Schultz seemed to contradict Rauner’s statements after the speech.
“The executive order does not require that,” Schultz said when asked if the corporation was subject to FOIA requests. “We’re going to post all of our board minutes. Any grants or tax incentives that we negotiate will be posted online. So effectively, addressing the FOIA would be subject to audit. We’re going to post all the…donations and what they’ve made to corporations, so it’s effectively going to be the equivalent of FOIA without the requirements of FOIA.”
Transparency with this kind of public-private partnership has been an issue with Democratic state lawmakers.
“Our main concern has been that public accountability follow public dollars,” said John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton. “We hope the governor shares that as a priority if he is moving forward on his own.”
As for the new corporation’s funding source, a DCEO press release from last week said, “The formation of the ILBEDC and its operations at least through FY16 will be funded entirely with private donations.”