Interlocal agencies, independent entities, special service districts, Associations of Governments (AOG), and conservancy districts—each of these is a type of government-sponsored or -created organization given control of some aspect of administration, localized policy making, or government service. In short, they have control over a portion of your tax dollars and/or your life.
Who are these mysterious organizations that, up until recently, have hidden their operations in the shadows? To be clear, they hold some public meetings, report to the Utah Legislature periodically, and probably even have up-to-date websites. However, they probably would rather you not know about the size of their budgets, nor their too frequent misappropriation of funds.
The average Utahn might recognize these government organizations from the media attention they have received over the past few years:
A legislative audit released this morning notes that “accurate water use data is critical” for managing the state’s water resources, while concluding, after research, that the data relied upon by state planners “contains significant inaccuracies”—inaccuracies which were admitted to, and known by, these government officials.
In some cases, the reported usage of water by some cities did not match the numbers listed in internal city reports. In one case, a city reported water usage for 2012 that was actually the data from another city with the same name in the state of New York.
The gravity of this mangled data is significant when considering the taxpayer investments made in water infrastructure throughout the state. The executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, for example, told the Deseret News today that, “The Division of Water Resources has been using bad data to support billions of dollars in unnecessary spending for massive water projects.” These same water managers who have been providing incorrect data—regarding the very reason for which they are employed—project that the state will need to spend $33 billion over the next several decades to repair current systems and expand supply.
Earlier this week, a new audit of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) was announced and discussed, in which the government agency was accused of manipulating data, misleading the public, and giving special treatment to certain businesses over others.
GOED’s own press releases support the latter allegation.
On August 14, GOED published a press release in which they announced a new tax credit incentive awarded to Overstock, a popular online retailer headquartered in Salt Lake County. Upon committing to creating 333 new jobs over the next 10 years, with wages and benefits at 200 percent over the county average wage, Overstock was awarded a 20% tax credit by GOED over 10 years.
Standing alone, this is likely a welcome incentive for Overstock and a reduction of their tax burden which will facilitate job creation and business growth. Stacked against another incentive, however, it becomes clear that Overstock (and many other companies competing for employees) has been placed at a financial disadvantage.
A newly released audit of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development—an institution of which we have often been critical—claims that their primary tactic to lure business into the state entails “questionable incentive awards.”
The audit also alleges corruption within the office in the form of manipulation of data. “GOED regularly reports inaccurately” on certain items, and “provided special treatment for some companies by altering post-performance assessments for companies that failed to meet GOED’s contractual threshold.” Further, the audit alleges that GOED has:
- used existing company employees to inflate wages of new employees in order to gain corporate incentive awards;
- used incorrect benchmarks to improperly issue an economic development tax increment financing award;
- removed low-paying jobs from averages; and
- handed out incentives to companies that failed to meet the wage criteria under their contracts with the state.