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In FOIA case, court rules state must disclose details of deal with GM

The Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, is the world headquarters of General Motors.
The Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, is the world headquarters of General Motors.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation must release details of a 2016 agreement with General Motors under the Michigan Economic Growth Act.

The court ruled the value of tax credits the company could claim through the Michigan Strategic Fund under the deal were not exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

The state had contended the dollar figure fell under an exception for “financial or proprietary information.” That exemption has been previously used for companies applying for similar deals.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a brief arguing against the state. James Hohman is the center’s director of fiscal policy.

"These type of selective subsidy programs are unfair to taxpayers who don’t get them, they’re ineffective at creating jobs, and they’re expensive to the state budget and it’s unfortunate when our administrators are more interested in hiding the cost of the programs and what’s being in consideration rather than being transparent about this,” he said.

Hohman said he hopes the ruling leads to more openness.

“I think there’s a lot of improvement to be made in economic development transparency. In particular, once companies sign deals, people should know what happens afterwards. The state’s gotten a little bit better over time but there’s still a lot of improvement to be had,” he said.

The Michigan Press Association signed on to the Mackinac Center’s amicus brief in the case. MPA public affairs manager Lisa McGraw said it’s important for the public to know where their dollars are going in MEDC-led efforts.

“This agency was charged with allocating money that we’re paying into the state treasury to a private company for what could be good purposes. But we don’t know that if we’re not transparent about it,” McGraw said.

Wednesday’s opinion from the state Supreme Court was unanimous. The case now goes back to the Court of Claims “for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”

The MEDC said its “attorneys are reviewing the opinion and we have no further comment at this time.”

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