Thankfully, WA State Officials Listen to WPC – Ask Lawmakers for Transparency

Jan. 12, 2011

 

Washington state legislators have been formally asked to become transparent — to practice accountability for good, open government. The request was in the form of a letter from State Auditor Brian Sonntag, a Democrat, and Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican.

In fact, Messrs. Sonntag and McKenna have asked lawmakers for a constitutional amendment to improve legislative transparency – actually, it’s an idea from the Washington Policy Center (WPC – www.washingtonpolicy.org).

The Sonntag-McKenna letter states:

“In the spirit of open and accountable government, we support a proposed constitutional amendment to create greater legislative transparency. The attached proposal, recommended by the Washington Policy Center, would prohibit blank bills from being introduced or voted on by the legislature. While the use of ‘title only bills’ is a rare procedure, the public concern substantially justifies eliminating their use entirely. The proposal would also require a minimum time for public notice of bills before a legislative hearing or action on the bill. 

These basic reforms will build the public trust and ensure that government is open and accountable to the public.  Please give your support to this proposed constitutional amendment.”

Accountability and transparency have long been issues in Washington.

“During the 2010 Session lawmakers routinely waived legislative rules requiring five-day notice before holding a bill hearing; provided inadequate notice of the time, location and topic of public hearings; held hearings on bills with no text; and voted on bills the same day details were made publicly available,” wrote Jason Mercier, director for the Center for Government Reform at WPC.

“The rush to vote on the budget and tax bills without allowing meaningful public comment or adequate review time by lawmakers led to mistakes in the bills,” he added.

Actually, the 2010 legislative session was one of only many in which lawmakers ignored the principle of good, open government. That’s why the state has a severe budget crisis. I’ve been warning about these issues for many years.

Appropriately, Mr. Mercier said the WPC makes these specific recommendations:

  1. Require 72-hour public notification before any bill could receive a public hearing
  2. Prohibit title only bills (no public hearing or vote should occur on a “ghost bill”)
  3. Prohibit votes on final passage until the final version of the bill to be approved has been publicly available for at least 24 hours.

Yes, reform is critical. The lack of transparency and good, open government have adversely impacted state businesses, their workers and customers for years. The WPC, and Messrs. Sonntag and McKenna have admirably worked to protect Washingtonians.

Memo to state officials: Please do the right thing.

From the Coach’s Corner, the state’s government needs a fundamental cultural and structural change in the way it conducts its business in order to perform the will of the voters. This Biz Coach business-news portal was designed primarily to provide business-coaching – proven solutions for maximum profits. But a disproportionate number of columns have been necessarily devoted to stop the chicanery of the state’s Legislature and agencies.

As a review, a sample from 2010 includes:

Washington Needs Soul-Searching in Public Policy, Budgeting – and Action

WA Election Reminder: Business Issues to Ponder

How to Alleviate Business Uncertainty in Washington State

Tax Increases Will Cost Washington Businesses, Consumers $6.7 Billion Next 10 Years

Why Not Transparency for Good, Open Government in Washington State?

Why Not Transparency for Good, Open Government in Washington State?

 

March 24, 2010

Even after concluding its regular 2010 legislative session and after nearly two weeks of a special session, there is no balanced budget. There are no efficiencies. Worse, there is little transparency about taxpayer assets. The Legislature hasn’t learned to stop chasing ill health.

By extension, it’s clear that Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown is not passing the transparency test of good, open government. She has failed to spearhead passage of a balanced budget and has largely ignored efficiencies, such as the Opportunities for Washington, recommended by a prominent member of her own party – State Auditor Brian Sonntag.

Instead of focusing on successfully ending the special session, The Seattle Times reports she sent a letter to Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna demanding that he stop his health-care efforts and accused him of being “far outside the mainstream interests” of the state. But my straw poll of businesses and consumers shows a majority in favor of his position.

Meantime, here’s a news flash: There is furtive, dubious activity under her leadership – everything from secretly raising taxes; gutting The Taxpayer Protection Act, Initiative 960; and passing ghost tax bills. There are no efforts to create a good economic environment and private sector jobs.

Actively highlighting the disingenuous behavior has been Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center (WPC), the nonpartisan think tank.

After seeing this TVW video posted on the Washington Policy Blog in which Speaker Brown denies knowing why Mr. Mercier has repeatedly raised concerns about legislative transparency, how could she be so disconnected?

Most state newspapers have commented to no avail, such as The Seattle Times in Gov. Gregoire: Use veto to keep transparency and in The Washington State Senate and the age of hubris.

When Gov. Gregoire failed to honor the request, the newspaper ran this editorial, Governor, Legislature should have kept two-thirds rule on taxes.

Even The Olympian commented in A bad example of legislative ‘transparency’.

There are plenty of other indications about the absence of transparency. How could she not have noticed any of WPC’s analysis? See for yourself at www.washingtonpolicy.org.

Plus, I’ve written numerous Biz Coach columns on the issue.

I cited $65 million in waste in this column, “Will Government Policies Ever Promote Economic And Political Liberty?” State employees are allowed to carry forward and cash out their unused sick leave.

You see, the state paid $65.3 million in unused sick leave from 2007 to 2009. And state workers have received millions of dollars in this budget cycle. This is a perk you will rarely, if ever, see for taxpayers in the private sector.

The largest employer in Washington, 17.6 percent of the workforce, is government. The retail sector is second with 10.8 percent. In the state’s 2009 comprehensive annual financial report, government expenses outgrew revenue.

Another eye-opener in the report: “Governmental activities resulted in a decrease in the state of Washington’s net assets of $2.2 billion.”

Because of the extravagant spending, the gap in unfunded Washington’s retiree health benefits is $7.9 billon.

Meantime, ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Joe Zarelli, has unsuccessfully argued in favor of transparency with Committee Chair, Sen. Margarita Prentice. This TVW video illustrates violations of legislative transparency standards.

All of this employee pork, unnecessary spending, and violations of transparency standards are why WPC is advocating a constitutional amendment for transparency:

BE IT RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, IN LEGISLATIVE SESSION ASSEMBLED:

THAT, Transparency and public disclosure in the legislative process is vital to a representative democracy.  THAT, At the next general election to be held in this state the secretary of state shall submit to the qualified voters of the state for their approval and ratification, or rejection, a new section amending Article 2, an amendment to Article 2, section 19, and an amendment to Article 2, section 22 of the Constitution of the state of Washington to read as follows:

Article II, new section.  No bill shall be eligible for a public hearing until 72 hours after introduction.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action of any kind unless it has first been subject to a public hearing in the same session of consideration.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action on the floor of either house until 72 hours after it has been placed on the floor calendar.  This section may be suspended with two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house. 

Article II, section 19. No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.  No bill shall be eligible for public hearing or legislative consideration of any kind unless the bill shall lay forth in full the changes to any act or sections of law. Title only bills shall be prohibited.

Article II, section 22. No bill shall be eligible for final passage in either house unless copies of the bill in the form to be passed shall have been made available to the members of that house and the public for at least twenty-four hours, unless two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house.  No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the secretary of state shall cause notice of this constitutional amendment to be published at least four times during the four weeks next preceding the election in every legal newspaper in the state.

 Let’s have a discussion about WPC’s suggestion. Implementing transparency is the right thing to do and will promote good, open government in Washington state. Stop chasing ill health.

From the Coach’s Corner, courtesy of Enterprise Washington, click here to find your legislators’ phone number and email address.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.