It’s No Secret: Both the Process and the Product Just Plain Awful


In a budget process that has seen it’s share of shocking developments and outrageous statements, perhaps nothing stands out more than this recent pronouncement from Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. From WisPolitics’ Monday PM Subscriber Update:

Doyle also shrugged off criticisms that the budget process was not open.

“Everything is totally transparent. Everybody knows what the bills were that were passed by the two houses and they know what the issues of debate are, the differences between the two houses. So there aren’t any secrets here,” Doyle said.

No secrets? Really?

Well, there certainly are a lot fewer secrets in the various versions of the budget, thanks in part to the reporters in the Capitol, including those who write at WisPoltics’ Budget Blog. Your team at the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy has also spent hundreds of hours scouring documents, following leads and obtaining and posting secret deals in order to reveal some of the more sneaky items inserted throughout the process.

There are so many items stuck into the various secret deals behind closed doors it is hard to keep up.

In the last few days alone, the following sneaky provisions have been revealed.

A radical change in the way some farm land is taxed.

A sweeping change in the way projects must be bid that would cause County costs to soar.

We are sure there will be more, IF the public and the press are allowed the time and opportunity to review the ever-evolving process.

Perhaps that’s the motivation behind pushing for a quick, secret settlement of differences between the ill-crafted Assembly plan and the ill-crafted Senate plan.

Can it be that our Governor is blind to the mess happening in the building in which he works and deaf to the the concerns of folks throughout Wisconsin?

After all, it’s not just free market think tanks that are raising a stink about the secrecy that plagues this awful Budget.

Wausau Daily Herald
And while no one wants a debate that extends into October, lawmakers should give the bill time to be seen in the light of day. And they will have to be open to smart revisions and political compromises.

Green Bay Press Gazette
Finally, most of the heavy lifting of the budget was done in secret. Again this week, Assembly Democrats debated and hammered out changes behind closed doors, where voters and taxpayers could not monitor their representatives’ behavior.

Sheboygan Press

Democrats, who control the Assembly as well as the Senate, went behind closed doors in party caucus to come up with their version of the budget — and then debated the bill on the Assembly floor late into the night and voted on it early in the morning last Saturday.

This was after the Democrat-controlled Joint Finance Committee held late-night and weekend sessions as it modified the proposal Gov. Jim Doyle made in February.

And, it appears this is the way the Senate will be operating, too.

Secret planning sessions and holding late-night and early-morning legislative sessions are shameful tactics.

Is it any wonder why taxpayers have little confidence in their elected leaders?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
In the state budget bills currently before the Assembly and Senate, there are earmarks and other provisions that were inserted without public discussion, whose authors are unknown and whose effects on public policy could be significant. Meetings take place into the dead of night; deals are made and decisions are reached in secret and in the wee hours of the morning when – our guess – legislators often are too fatigued to think straight.

The Janesville Gazette
Every Wisconsinite should be outraged at the secrecy surrounding a budget that will dump billions in new taxes on individuals and businesses.

Appleton Post Crescent
Given the chance to change how the state Legislature operates in devising the state budget, the newly empowered Democrats who hold the majority in the Assembly and Senate, as well as the governor’s seat, chose more of the same.

Given the chance to create more openness with the budget process, they chose closed caucuses, middle-of-the-night meetings and last-minute additions.

Given the chance to confine the budget bill to its true purpose — determining how the state will raise and spend money — they chose to fill it with policy items they apparently couldn’t pass on their own.

Given the chance to end the practice of earmark spending, they chose to spend millions on it while the state is mired in a $3 million deficit in the first year of the two-year budget.

Given the chance to put the state on a more solid financial footing, they chose to make it worse — not just for state government but for the state’s K-12 schools.

But if you only have time to read one editorial today, read this piece from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram. It captures what’s wrong with the process. Some excerpts:

So considering that the contents of the budget will be so distasteful, why does the state Legislature – and its Democratic majority – seem intent on making the process distasteful too? Why are they racing through thousands of pages and hundreds of amendments in just a few hours? Why are they doing so much of their wheeling and dealing out of the public eye? In short, what are they hiding?

First, there are the all-night sessions in the Capitol that would make the hardest partying student on the nearby UW-Madison campus envious: The Joint Finance Committee passed its version of the budget at 5:30 a.m. May 30; the Assembly passed its budget at 5:19 a.m. June 13.

While it’s laudable that lawmakers seem intent on meeting the July 1 budget deadline (they’re often months late), is it really necessary to pull all-nighters to do so?

And then there’s the secrecy. It’s bad enough that majority Democrats can close their caucus meetings – where real decisions are made – to the press and public. Now they may make an end-run around the state’s open meetings law. Normally, once the Senate and Assembly pass their versions of the budget, a conference committee – which includes members from both houses – is formed to iron out the differences. However, Democratic leaders now may skip that step and settle those differences in secret instead. As The Associated Press noted last week, “Lawmakers are allowed to do so because without the committee being created, there is no obligation to comply with open meetings law.”

The AP report continued: “Leaders could talk among themselves, and possibly reach a deal, without ever calling a meeting or allowing Republicans, who are in the minority, to participate.”

Wisconsin Democrats may call their politics progressive, but their handling of the budget process has moved the state backward.

Well, those are merely the opinions from across the state.

The Governor either is not aware of those concerns, or does not care. Either scenario is troubling.

“Everything is totally transparent. Everybody knows what the bills were that were passed by the two houses and they know what the issues of debate are, the differences between the two houses. So there aren’t any secrets here.”

It’s a secret to only Governor Doyle: This budget process has been outrageously sneaky, shady, shameful and secretive. And the products that is resulting from that process is equally awful and will forever be tainted by the way in which it was crafted. That is, unless lawmakers reverse course, start over and craft and debate a plan in plain sight.