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Texas Enterprise Fund draws fire again

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Dallas Morning News Editorial

Last year, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a $9.75 million grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund to entice a pharmaceutical distributor to expand in Las Colinas. Now, Texas and 40 other states are investigating whether that distributor, McKesson Corp., had a role in the nation's growing opioid crisis.

That has put the state in an embarrassing situation on several fronts.

The first issue: No state wants to be in the position of subsidizing the expansion of a company it then has to turn around and investigate. McKesson has been at the center of a number of similar opioid-related investigations and lawsuits in Texas and across the nation.

The opioid epidemic, while not as endemic in Texas as in other states, is not a new development -- nor are allegations that drugmakers and distributors could have done more to make the addictive pills less plentiful.

McKesson has denied any wrongdoing and company spokeswoman Kristin Chasen has said its partnership with the state "remains strong." She has said the company is cooperating with the attorneys general from Texas and the other states involved in the investigation.

And shortly after President Donald Trump recently declared the opioid crisis a "national public health emergency," McKesson made several recommendations for how the federal government could reduce opioid abuse or misuse.

Nonetheless, taxpayers should be dismayed that the state finds itself in this pickle, especially since doctors have expressed concern for years that drug companies and distributors make it too easy for people to get their hands on the addictive pills. If this issue wasn't on the governor's radar before the grant was approved, it should have been.

The second issue: The state's prime business-attraction fund finds itself at the center of yet another controversy about how its dollars are doled out.

The Dallas Morning News and others have been asking questions about oversight of this fund since Gov. Rick Perry created it in 2003. State dollars from the fund supplement local tax abatements and sales tax rebates to sweeten deals for companies -- such as Toyota in Plano and Apple in Austin -- looking to do business in the state.

Nearly every state does something like this to gain a competitive edge in the race for new businesses. We don't want Texas to be left behind. But nor can the state allow itself to get caught up in such compromising situations.

Texas supposedly tightened its vetting process after an audit in 2014 revealed lax oversight and accountability in the fund's early years. Yet the McKesson episode makes one wonder.

The state forked over $10,000 for each of the 1,000 new jobs McKesson promised to bring to Las Colinas, more than any other state or local government has given the firm since 2000.

How was the decision made to approve McKesson's grant? Texas lawmakers should look into that -- and be prepared to claw back the grant if investigations show that the distributor's actions worsened the opioid epidemic.

Several Texas counties allege that McKesson and others in the pharmaceutical industry failed to acknowledge addiction risks or control the flood of the addictive pills. They are right to ask those tough questions, and so should state lawmakers -- about McKesson and the Enterprise Fund.