As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Hidden Budget Process

Everything that is corrosive and broken about California politics can be seen in this incredible article by Kevin Yamamura. In it, he explains that negotiations on the budget are being held by the Assembly and Senate leadership in secret, so as not to upset the critical balance needed to pass it.

Five Californians are trying to solve the state's budget crisis, in part by keeping the other 38 million residents in the dark.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the four legislative leaders have continued their negotiations behind closed doors for weeks, bypassing open legislative committees and offering the outside world few details as a precondition of their talks.

See, what happens is that the population of 38 million elects 120 representatives to go to Sacramento, and they vest all their power in the hands of four leaders, and they go off to run the state by themselves. It's such a brilliant program, not subject to personal ambitions or petty jealousies. Not at all.

Among the people the Big Five are hiding from are their own fellow legislators, and lobbyists:

They fear special interests will mobilize on every proposal they hear about, ramp up pressure on lawmakers and prevent any possibility of reaching a deal that could secure enough votes.

"Whether it's education or labor or any of the other groups, when we get wind of something that has significant jeopardy for us, we fight against it," said Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for hundreds of California school districts. "It's a (lobbying) system set up to defeat the latest idea that's been hatched, which makes it that much harder to get a solution."

When they do reach a deal, legislative leaders intend to hide it as long as they can until a floor vote, for fear that lobbyists may undermine the agreement by persuading key legislators to vote against it.

Wow, there's an honest lobbyist.

So let's get this straight: budget negotiations are happening in secret, because if they were even remotely public, special interests would scuttle the deal. And when an agreement is reached, they're going to SNEAK IT ONTO THE FLOOR so no wayward lawmaker gets in his silly little head that he wants to read it.

The increased secrecy behind this year's "Big Five" leadership negotiations has made interest groups nervous and has alarmed open-government proponents.

"The thought that to be able to solve this you have to ram it down members' throats just to lock something up before a constituency finds it outrageous is evidence of how bad the process has gotten," said Terry Francke of Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group.

Yep. Keep in mind that there has not been one Budget Committee hearing this year. When a deal is reached, that committee will probably meet in the middle of the night and rubber-stamp the deal, moving to the floor as fast as possible to outflank the special interests who clearly run the state.

The Big Five process is absurd. There are ways to decrease the influence of special interests, the biggest being full public financing of all elections. The best practice is NOT to hide from them so that the legislative process is like a team of burglars trying to rob a jewelry store without being detected. And the less people involved in any negotiation, the more possibility for eventual corruption through backroom dealing.

The entire brief for a Constitutional convention can now be "Read A-1 of the Sac Bee on February 4, 2009."

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