Sunday, April 25, 2010

03/03/2010: TNInvestco tax credit documents will stay sealed

Government documents surrounding a $120 million state venture capital program will not be made public for five years after a Davidson County chancellor ruled Tuesday that the material is sensitive and should remain under wraps.
That means a Franklin-based venture capital firm shut out of the program won't immediately get to see how the state rated 25 firms that applied for tax credits under the state's TNInvestco program or view the winning scores of six firms chosen to participate.

The ruling drew far different reactions from would-be investors whose applications were rejected and state economic development officials who say the ruling safeguards the government's right to handle business discussions in private.

"What we're talking about is a fundamental right to see what the government is doing," said Larry Coleman, president of Coleman Swenson Booth, an early-stage venture capital fund. His firm, which has invested more than $63 million in Tennessee-based companies in the past 26 years, was not selected to participate in the tax credit program.

Waiting five years to see the documents doesn't help, Coleman said, adding that he plans to appeal Chancellor Russell Perkins' ruling. "If we can't shine a light on how appointees are spending taxpayer money, it offers opportunity for rascality," Coleman said.

But Matt Kisber, commissioner of the state's Economic and Community Development Department, disagreed.

"I'm pleased by the court's ruling that our department clearly followed the law and was within its right to protect confidential information provided by companies investing in the state of Tennessee," Kisber said in a prepared statement.

"We fully understand the need for open government, and we are committed to upholding that principle while balancing the need of our state to maintain a competitive posture as we seek to attract new investment and create jobs for the people of Tennessee," Kisber said.

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