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Department of Commerce delivers on commitment to increased transparency

Pledging future changes and resolving October 2019 litigation

As part of the South Carolina Department of Commerce’s (Commerce) ongoing commitment to transparency, the agency has delivered by implementing changes that provide increased information to the public and has also pledged additional, future changes.

As a result of these commitments, the agency and Senator Richard Harpootlian have reached a Settlement and Mutual Release Agreement in connection with litigation filed in October 2019 regarding Commerce’s response to two requests made pursuant to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This settlement resolves any remaining issues regarding disclosure pursuant to the FOIA requests that were involved in the litigation.

Consistent with Commerce’s commitment to increasing transparency, for future projects approved for discretionary incentives, Commerce will share the average wage for jobs on which incentive credits are claimed in response to a request for that information, and if a project locating anywhere other than a Tier IV county in South Carolina has average wages less than $15.00 per hour, Commerce will confirm that fact. Commerce will also disclose the names of company executives and lawyers involved in incentive negotiations when responding to FOIA requests. Commerce’s actions and commitments are outlined in the settlement.

Additionally, Commerce has pledged to take additional steps, some of which have already been implemented, to be more transparent and accountable with regard to discretionary incentives, including the following:

  • Report aggregate average wages by incentive qualification for all projects receiving job development credits.
  • Require enforcement of “clawbacks” when companies do not meet grant performance requirements with annual reporting of same.
  • Implement enhanced annual reporting by the South Carolina Coordinating Council for Economic Development.
  • Include available incentive data on Commerce’s website.
  • Refer grant repayments to the Department of Revenue for debt collection under the Governmental Enterprise Accounts Receivable (GEAR) program, as necessary.

“When I appointed Secretary Lightsey, we made a commitment to the people of South Carolina that we would ensure a level of accountability that balances public transparency while preserving the state’s competitiveness. I appreciate Secretary Lightsey taking these important steps in the right direction. We are committed to providing transparency in how taxpayer dollars are used for economic development and to keeping South Carolina competitive and business friendly,” said Gov. Henry McMaster.

“I am pleased to arrive at this agreement which underscores Commerce’s commitment to providing more clarity and insight into our processes without inhibiting the state’s competitive position. We will continue to explore transparency that balances the public interest with our industry recruitment efforts and the competitively sensitive information of businesses operating within the state,” said Secretary of Commerce Harry M. Lightsey III.

“Secretary Lightsey and I have reached a good compromise that ensures that the Department of Commerce is more transparent and accountable to South Carolina taxpayers, an ongoing process and a step in the right direction of requiring state government to provide enough information for the public to evaluate whether their money is being spent wisely,” said Senator Richard Harpootlian.

The items agreed to in the Settlement and Mutual Release Agreement are reflected in Commerce’s updated FOIA Policy, FAQs & Fee Schedule, which is available publicly on the agency’s website.