ALBANY - State officials have offered Amazon a package of taxpayer-funded incentives in hopes of luring the company's planned second headquarters to New York.
But the state has repeatedly refused to say publicly how much it is proposing to give the company and what form those incentives would take.
Empire State Development, the state's economic-development branch, submitted four regional bids in October for Amazon's HQ2, the company's $5 billion project that promises as many as 50,000 jobs.
The state's bids, four of 238 the company received throughout North America, covered the Buffalo-Rochester area; New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley; Syracuse-Utica; and the Albany area.
New York offered an across-the-board package of taxpayer-funded breaks and incentives in hopes of attracting the company. The incentives would apply to any of its four bids.
But Empire State Development, or ESD, has declined to release details of what it's offering, citing a clause in state law that allows it to withhold information from the public in certain instances.
More: Amazon's new headquarters: 4 New York bids, no word on tax breaks
The USA TODAY Network's Albany Bureau first filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law in November, asking ESD to turn over its four Amazon bids and any correspondence the state has had with the company about the HQ2 project.
ESD denied the request in full five days later, citing an exemption in the law for information that would "impair present or imminent contract awards" if disclosed.
The Albany Bureau appealed the decision to an ESD attorney, arguing the Freedom of Information Law has a presumption of access to public records and disclosing the information that Amazon is already in possession of would not cause harm.
The appeal, however, was rejected on Dec. 29, with ESD Associate Counsel Julene Beckford ruling that information about the state's objectives, interests and assumptions are "closely guarded as they affect its ability to negotiate."
"Additionally, the release of this information could be used by ESD’s competitors in an effort to pursue Amazon and other businesses away from New York State," Beckford wrote. "Premature release of this information would impair ESD’s ability to engage in meaningful contract negotiations."
Other states' responses
State and local governments across the country have taken different approaches when it comes to publicly releasing their offers to Amazon.
Some states and major cities have willingly made public their bids or correspondence containing details about them.
That includes New Jersey (which is offering $7 billion in tax breaks), Toronto (a 200-page bid with no extra subsidies) and Houston (a draft summary showing $268 million in incentives, according to the Houston Chronicle.)
But many states and cities across the country have refused to make them public, with some arguing its a trade secret and others, like New York, making the case it would hurt their bargaining position, according to the Associated Press.
Among those that have declined to detail their bids are Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Virginia and such cities as Detroit; Philadelphia; Orlando, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, the AP reported Thursday.
Amazon has left it up to the bidders to decide whether to release their offers publicly.
Bidders did have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but it only covered certain private information about the company and its HQ2 project. The NDA does not prohibit states from releasing their subsidy offers or pitches.
Amazon declined comment Thursday about New York's decision.
New York has rejected multiple FOIL requests for its bid and at least two appeals, including the USA TODAY Network's and a separate one from Politico New York.
A lawsuit would have to be filed to challenge the appeal denials.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said ESD's contention that releasing its bids would cause harm is "largely speculative."
Given that, Freeman said ESD would have a difficult case to make, though he said it's still "conceivable" it could prevail.
"I'm guessing that especially in this context where others have disclosed their proposal, I think it would be exceedingly difficult for ESD to meet the burden of proof in this instance," Freeman said.
Jon Campbell is a correspondent for the USA TODAY Network's Albany Bureau.