The bill, AB 998, “was held up by the Assembly Budget Committee,” but Morrell pledges to push it again next year.
It’s not a big bill.
In fact, it’s quite a simple item that would add just one paragraph to the state government code.
It is a big deal, though, because the public should have access to the budget, and it’s so obvious, it’s practically a no-brainer to me.
We already have the Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires elected officials to notify the public in advance of public meetings. Why wouldn’t the law also require government to make available to the public – in the most efficient manner possible – the things that will be voted on, especially when it’s something as disputed and controversial as the state budget has become.
Maybe lawmakers are worried that public scrutiny might bog down the budget process and they’d wind up missing the deadline to pass the budget?
Somehow I doubt that’s it.
Curious, I called Morrell and asked him why his bill didn’t swish through the Legislature.
The answer, he said, is that while Sacramento lawmakers talk like they support accountability, they really don’t.
“They can say all the flowery things about how they want accountability, but their actions don’t reflect that,” Morrell said. “They want to spend the taxpayers’ money without accountability to the taxpayers. That’s wrong.”
Politics also plays a role, Morrell said, noting that he got no support from Statehouse Democrats, but he also stressed that it’s not strictly a partisan issue.
Democrats in Sacramento are more stridently partisan than rank-and-file, hard-working Democrats, he said.
The legislative process also stands to be impacted.
To illustrate, Morrell described an anecdote about his experience with the state budget:
“When I went in for my first budget vote, we had gotten the budget bill maybe two hours before the vote,” Morrell said.
The budget packet was about six inches thick, and officials barely had time to review the executive summary, he said. “It was crazy,” he added.
Morrell wrote his bill because he believes the public should have more access to the budget, and at the same time, lawmakers need to be more accountable.
“The public should be able to get this,” he said. “It’s their money.”
Requiring the budget to be posted three days prior to a vote would not only allow the public better access, Morrell said, but it would also allow lawmakers to make more informed decisions about how taxpayer money is spent and it would reduce some of the “smoke and mirrors” involved in the budget process.
This seems like good law to me, and I can’t imagine any good reason why lawmakers wouldn’t rush to sign up for it.
The state budget has been and continues to be a train wreck, and lawmakers on all sides routinely criticize each other over what’s in it or what’s not in it.
To the public, it’s practically a punch line.
Anything lawmakers can do to demystify the process would help.
Right on Mike, keep up the good work. You are doing a great job!————–Paul Schrader