Transparency and Why WA Unemployment Rate Jumps to 9.5 Percent


March 16, 2010

Universal criticism of the Washington State Legislature’s failure to be transparent is validated once again as the state’s unemployment rate continues to climb – now at 9.5 percent.

The increase stems from another 8,300 lost jobs, including 3,200 in construction and 2,100 in business services.

The timing couldn’t be more symbolic during this national Sunshine Week. The unemployment rate dovetails with the declining transparency at the Washington State Legislature. It’s in a special session to finalize the state budget with seemingly countless tax increases following years of over-spending.

If it weren’t for the watchdog efforts of people like Jason Mercier, Washingtonians would be in the dark regarding the chicanery of the Legislature. Lawmakers have refused to implement efficiencies at the expense of a suffering electorate and business community. They’ve passed ghost tax bills and made many decisions in private, but have not accomplished anything to improve the state’s economy. Mr. Mercier, who is the director of the Center for Government Reform for the Washington Policy Center, has issued countless updates from Olympia.

As a result of the secrecy in passing numerous unnecessary tax increases and other dubious legislation, newspapers across the state are clamoring for good, open government in Washington state.

Here’s a sample:

A bad example of legislative ‘transparency’, Olympian
“In the waning days of the regular legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, a Democrat from Spokane, claimed the Legislature is much more transparent than it was when she entered the Legislature.  Brown is wrong . . .”

Sunshine and Clouds in Olympia, Kitsap Sun
“The bad news is that public access to information and hearings about legislation has been … challenging. There’s been a flurry of ‘title-only’ bills introduced and set for hearings, sometimes on short notice, and with no timely public information on their content. Members of the public deserve better than that — and if they want to get it, they’d better say so this fall to those who seek to represent them in the Legislature.”

It’s National Sunshine Week, but state’s transparency forecast remains cloudy, Longview Daily News
“Shutting down the Sunshine Committee less than three years after it was formed is as difficult to justify as that legislative exemption from public disclosure. It proved too much for legislators to pull off in the light of day. The Sunshine Committee was taken off the bill’s termination list — less than a week ago. Sadly, that remains this legislative session’s single accomplishment on behalf of government transparency.

State government clings to double standard, News Tribune
“Is it any wonder that city and county officials clamor for relief from open meetings and records laws when they see their counterparts in state government behave as they do? State officials profess a belief in public disclosure. They’re just not sure it always applies to them. Lawmakers in particular hold themselves apart from the state’s sunshine laws. They caucus in secret for any reason and insist that their correspondence is somehow constitutionally protected from public dissemination. They also apparently reserve the right to skip public process in the interests of expediency.”

Public input? Who cares?, Everett Herald
“With increasing audacity, key state legislators are taking control from the people and seizing it for themselves. Amid the difficult process of closing a $2.8 billion budget shortfall, they’ve skirted, waived or ignored the public’s right to know what they’re up to and comment on it.”

And there others we can cite.

Meantime, Mr. Mercier offers some excellent solutions for transparency and the Legislature’s practice of passing ghost tax bills.

“Add the preamble of the state’s public records act to Article 1,” he writes. This would help re-enforce this transparency intent for any wayward court.” (See the preamble about the voters’ sovereignty.)

“Add a new section to Article 2 which would require 72-hour public notification before any bill could receive a public hearing, he adds. “While the requirement currently exists in legislative rules, it is often waived.”

Amend Article 2, Section 19 to prohibit title only bills. No public hearing or vote should occur on a “ghost bill.”

Amend Article 2, Section 22 to prohibit votes on final passage until the final version of the bill to be approved has been publicly available for 24-hours.”

He points out it would not be a stretch for the Legislature to be transparent and give the voters adequate notice before passing bills that affect their livelihoods.

“Florida’s Constitution (Article 3, Section 19) requires a 72-hour public review period for appropriations bills before they can be voted on,” Mr. Mercier explains. “Hawaii’s Constitution (Article 3, Section 15) requires a 48-hour review period before any bill can be voted on for final passage.”

Is transparency too much to ask? No. So, why don’t we tell lawmakers how we feel? Otherwise, the unemployment rate and the economic climate will remain unnecessarily unacceptable. Not to mention the theft of Washingtonians’ economic and political freedoms.

From the Coach’s Corner, here’s a link from Enterprise Washington to find your legislators’ phone number and email address.

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