A member of Gov. Rick Perry's staff testified Monday that the Legislature might have gone too far in requiring technology startups to disclose how many jobs they are creating with taxpayer money.Enter Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin):
Jonathan Taylor, director of the Emerging Technology Fund, said the fund administered by the governor's office has improved its transparency because of changes in the law last year.
"You will not find a state — and certainly not a private — fund that provides as much information," Taylor told the Senate Committee on Economic Development.
But Taylor also testified that some of the 133 companies receiving $192.7 million from taxpayers objected to reporting the number of jobs they had created.
Taylor said there is concern that competitors would use the information — whether a company is shrinking or growing — against them.
"Do I really want to give that information to their competitors?" he asked rhetorically.
After the meeting, Taylor said about 10 percent of the companies had objected to reporting the job numbers.
Coincidentally, the governor's office on Monday posted its 2011 annual report on the technology fund, including the breakdown of how the 133 companies created 820 jobs so far with the $192.7 million in awards.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said he was concerned about the ramifications of keeping job numbers secret from the public.Really? A competitive disadvantage? The issue is more likely that governor wants to keep slush fund and doesn't want to reveal that he may be handing out millions in taxpayer dollars only to have a handful of jobs created. Something...like...this:
"Those of us who support this fund have an obligation to see that the fund works and that the public sees that the fund works," he said.
Andrew Wheat of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice is a frequent critic of Perry's management of state incentives for job creation.
"Texas taxpayers sunk a couple hundred million dollars into ETF companies and have a right to see what they are getting in return, including job numbers," Wheat said. "Companies that don't want to keep taxpayers in the loop should not take taxpayer money."
Sen. Mike Jackson, a Republican from La Porte and the author of last year's legislation, said he was surprised that companies objected to disclosing their job numbers.
But Jackson, who is chairman of the Economic Development Committee, suggested a compromise.
"Is there some way to come up with an estimate that doesn't put a company at a competitive disadvantage?" Jackson said.
Genprex Inc., formerly known as Convergen LifeSciences, was the company that drew the Legislature's attention last year and prompted a state auditor's review of the technology fund.$4.5 million for 6 jobs. That's $750,000 per job. Wonder how many teachers that could have kept employed?
The company received $4.5 million, the second-largest grant from the fund, in 2010 to pursue nanomolecular cancer therapies.
Critics questioned how the company, led by a friend of the governor's, got the grant after it had trouble obtaining initial approval at the local level.
Convergen LifeSciences sued to block the release of information about its contract, which revealed that private investors put little money into the deal.
The company is preparing for clinical trials for its product, and it has created six jobs so far.
The Dallas Morning News also reports on this story.