Kevin Woster has blogged it. David Newquist has mentioned it in an e-mail, as has Sam Kephart. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense: open government may be the root of our state budget problem.
Lots of us South Dakotans are getting our dander up over the state budget and the cuts proposed by Governor Rounds (well detailed by Dr. Newquist, who identifies the governor's targeting of "culture, education, workers, and the disadvantaged"). The volume and number of voices is rising, and that's good: the more people speaking up and making clear their budget priorities, the better chance we have of seeing a budget that attends to the popular will.
But how can we make a budget if we don't have all the information about the budget? We have a need and a right to see the public records of our own state government's activities, yet Governor Michael Rounds maintains the position that records are private until proven public. He blows a little smoke about protecting individual rights, but really, his position boils down to an arrogant elitism. He's really saying, "I get to look at the information, and you don't."
We also need more open contracts. Sam Kephart writes that the governor has issued 3,400 no-bid contracts in the last twelve months. The Board of Regents has similar power to offer "no-bid contracts and exclusive supplier arrangements" [Kephart, e-mail, 2009.01.25].
If our budget really requires serious fixing, everyone involved in the budget—legislators, workers, vendors, taxpayers, the whole bunch of us—need the most complete picture possible of how that budget works. We need to know we are spending our money as efficiently as possible. Toward that end, every transaction of our money must be open to bid and review to every citizen of this state, not just the handful privileged to go to work on the second floor of the Capitol.
Everybody from President Obama to Governor Rounds's pal Sarah Palin, from Senate Majority Leader Dave Knudson to Sibby, says good government is open government. Governor Rounds should boot his old "It's good to be king!" thinking and accept that all those papers he signs really belong to us.
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