Why Are State Budget Negotiations Secret Meetings?
With all the debate surrounding the Budget this summer, a concerned taxpayer has the right to see exactly what his representatives and legislature are doing on the peopleâ€™s time, or does he? According to the state Sunshine legislation, all official â€œagencyâ€? business, including that of the General Assembly, Governor’s cabinet, or any board, council, authority, or commission of the state must be open to the public. That is, state university boards, school boards, and county commissioners have to make their budget deliberations open to the public.
However, the Rendell administration continues to bypass the Sunshine Act and remain virtually unchecked by not allowing certain people, such as myself, into â€œopenâ€? meetings. Instead of debating the state budget on the House floor or in Committee, they continue to hold closed-door meetings in the Governor’s mansion with only a few legislative leaders.
Why aren’t these meetings public? Well perhaps, what is discussed would embarrass many lawmakers. For instance, one aspect of debate is reportedly whether to cut funding for 20 open positions. “Not cutting”? open positions is code for hiring more government employees, which perhaps should be reconsidered given a $3.2 billion deficit.
And given the recent experience with budget negotiators like Vince Fumo and Mike Veon, who were convicted and indicted for using taxpayer dollars for their own gain, respectively, wouldn’t now be a good time for transparency, just to convince voters that not every lawmaker is a crook?