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Lack of Transparency During Budget Talks Causes Concern

Audio

Aired 4/20/09

Some political observers say California lawmakers passed the historic budget agreement with very little public oversight. They're calling for more "open government" during future budget negotiations. Steve Shadley reports.

Now that California's budget stalemate is in the history books…political watchdog groups are sending out the message that they want more transparency at the capitol…

Rusch: "it was very hard to engage in the budget process…"

That's Emily Rusch. She's a public transportation advocate with CalPirg…the California Public Interest Research Group. CalPirg and a few other public advocates are upset with lawmakers after the budget got final approval early one morning last week…when most people were asleep…and few were paying attention.

Even senate democratic leader Darrell Steinberg told a group of reporters at a recent luncheon…that budget negotiations were too exclusive…

Steinberg: "No one likes the secrecy of the big five…it's not the way the process should happen…"

The big five…is the group of five legislative leaders. They're the ones who met over and over again with Governor Schwarzenegger in his office the past few weeks…while the rank and file lawmakers and others were left out in the cold. Again, Senator Steinberg…

Steinberg: "I think the fact that we've kept this a closed door negotiation does in fact speak to the fact to why the capitol is so dysfunctional…"

So it could come off as dysfunctional…but others say getting a budget deal really works better when it's up to a select few. Tim Hodson is Executive Director for the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State…

Hodson: "I cannot imagine the negotiations that took place in the last two weeks with the 80 different members on the assembly floor wanting to speak about every issue with the t-v cameras rolling. It just isn't practical…"

Hodson says when it comes to drafting a budget plan…especially during an economic downturn like this one…the big five is the best way to go…

Hodson: "but it all comes back to individual members coming back and voting aye or nay on this…"

Hodson says the budget measures were posted on the internet for anyone to see and he says there also were a lot of committee hearings where public input was invited.

But for Emily Rusch with Calpirg…that's not enough. She says so many budget changes still happen right before it goes to the governor's desk…

Hodson: "of course as it stands right now you have little recourse but for groups to stand outside the capitol and rally if they hear about any cuts that are happening or could happen…"

As financial experts and political analysts have more time to mull over the fine print in the budget they may be a little surprised when they learn just what exactly happened at the capitol last week. In Sacramento, I'm Steve Shadley.

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