Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Governor wastes our dollars defending secrecy."

Editorial: Secrecy on TTC

September 17, 2006

Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

This is a fascinating concept.

The people of Texas have entered into an agreement with a foreign company to build a super highway financed by tolls. And get this: The people are told they can’t know what’s in that agreement.

The case for closed records is being made by the Texas Department of Transportation and Gov. Rick Perry in a suit that could be called Texas vs. Texas. So, taxpayers, what side are you on?

We trust that you are on the side of open government, and that our governor and his agencies are, too. But they aren’t acting that way.

The transportation agency has been named in a suit by Attorney General Greg Abbott for its refusal to disclose contractual matters on the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The function of building and managing the TTC has been awarded to a Spanish company, Cintra-Zachary.

The firm says that contract information is proprietary since it’s a private business. Unless Perry or the agency concedes that Abbott is right and they’re wrong, this will go to trial Oct. 10. That will be Texas dollars and attorneys defending secrecy and Texas dollars and attorneys pleading the case for openness.

The Houston Chronicle has filed an open records request under state public information laws. Cintra-Zachry asked a court to block release of its plans. Abbott has ruled they are public records.

This case shows a key pitfall of contracting government services out to private business. Because various concerns could be construed as proprietary, contractors often refuse to release information about what they are doing with tax dollars.

It’s outrageous that the people of Texas can be excluded from knowing exactly what they are purchasing with their tax dollars. This “just trust us” mode is what spawns scandals and the misallocation of funds.

It would seem beyond dispute that the terms of an agreement to build the biggest highway project in Texas history would be a public matter.

Gov. Perry may think he invented a new widget with his agreement with Cintra-Zachary to build the TTC, but it’s got to have the same old raw materials, and those include public disclosure.

Please, Governor, don’t waste another penny of our tax dollars defending secrecy that, if not outright illegal, runs directly counter to the essential principle of open government.

© 2006 The Associated Press: