Budget shenanigans a blow to transparency

The life-blood of democracy is transparency.

Transparency is the only way in which the democratic process can truly be representative of the public. It is an absolutely integral part of our system of checks and balances.

On Tuesday, the state Senate began the process of adopting a budget. After months of working with staff, advocates, the public and colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we held a public hearing. Those who represent education, the poor, the elderly, the disabled and people of all walks of life all had a chance to express their priorities and concerns regarding $30 billion worth of public services and policy decisions that shape their lives.

The time was well spent. We heard loud and clear the public’s desire to preserve our ability to educate our young, and we were able to craft a budget that, for the first time in years, did not cut funding to K-12 and higher education.

The budget was a good representation of an economy on the mend.

This, of course, was just the next step in a process of negotiations with stakeholders and colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers. We were racing the clock with an adjournment date of March 8 looming, but we had momentum and the consensus was that we could avoid a costly special session.

That all came crashing down Friday night.

In a matter of hours, a Democratic budget proposal that took months to write and was put through the wringer of public scrutiny was supplanted with a Republican budget proposal that was crafted through handshakes and back slaps — and voted off the floor without so much as a public hearing or public notice.

This Republican budget and the parliamentary games and political deals that pushed it to passage with a slim one-vote majority represent democracy at its most hollow. It is these types of schemes that cynics point to when they question the motives and ability of their elected officials.

This was not democracy. This was not why we were elected or why I chose to run for office.

Our most effective ally in earning and sustaining credibility with the public is transparency. The public expects us to conduct their business in the open, not in back rooms, and on a schedule that gives everyone a chance to consider and speak to what we propose to do.

Time and again, voter initiatives to increase openness in government have received overwhelming support statewide.

In fact, an editorial which ran in this newspaper in 2010, entitled “Shine a light on the Legislature,” criticized Democrats for holding hearings on a state income tax proposal on short notice. But the public at least had a chance to read the bill and weigh in on it. As a result of that feedback, the bill was not brought to a vote and died in committee.

The Republican budget, with the aid of three disaffected Democrats, was voted on and passed in the wee hours of Saturday morning. This nearly 300-page behemoth – which had been carefully kept secret from the public and from all but three Democratic senators until moments before it was motioned to the floor for a vote – will have an impact on every single Washingtonian.

It is reprehensible and indefensible that they had no say in the matter.

Sen. Nick Harper represents the 38th District which includes Everett, Marysville and Tulalip areas.

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