Bring budget negotiations back into the light of day

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 25, 2005

While we can agree with Gov. Barbour’s plan to delay calling aspecial session on the budget stalemate until conferees reach aconsensus, we are having a hard time understanding his motives ofdoing so behind closed doors – in secret.

The governor’s plan saves the state special session money inthat it does not require cranking up the state Capitol machine.Letting it sit in idle for days or weeks on end while a small groupof House and Senate conferees huddle in a small room working outthe details is nothing but a waste of money.

However, hiding behind closed doors to do so is problematic.Yes, it curbs the potential for grandstanding and could possiblyspeed up the process, but it could also create a bad budget andeven worse skepticism from the taxpayers who are footing thebill.

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As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” We remember afew years ago during a closed conference committee when a confereeslid into a bill a generous retirement package for legislatorswithout the knowledge of many of his colleagues who then voted forthe bill. A special session had to be called to remove the languagedue the uproar from the public once the sleight of hand wasdiscovered by the news media.

It was just a few weeks ago that one Hattiesburg legislator wascaught with his hand in the taxpayers’ cookie jar when, during aconference committee meeting, he tried to add a questionable GulfCoast company to an economic development bill. The conferencecommittee was thankfully open to the public and the legislatorquickly backed away when the story made headlines.

The tone of politics these days has built an uneasy feeling ofdistrust from the general public. One can blame the media or onecan blame the politicians or one can blame both. But the fact isthat better legislation is passed when legislation is passed underpublic scrutiny, and the only way to accomplish that is throughopenness in government.