Our men in Pierre, David Montgomery and Bob Mercer, provide excellent coverage of the Republican plan to balance the state budget. Montgomery is also fast on the draw covering the bad blood bubbling openly between Governor Rounds and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. Meanwhile, Democrats are hanging back, watching the fun and reminding us that they proposed about two-thirds of GOP's budget ideas last November.
I will agree with Governor Rounds on at least one point:
Said Rounds: “We have been available and have offered every single week to participate and to discuss the budget. We have been told that it was a secret and we have been told that when they were ready they would come visit with us.”
Rounds sharply criticized the Republican budget, saying it was “not the appropriate way to build a budget” and would have a “devastating” impact on the Board of Regents and other programs [David Montgomery, "Gloves Come off for Rounds, Legislators," Pierre Capital Journal: Behind Government Lines, 2010.03.04].
Keeping the governor of your own party out of the loop on your state budget plan sounds almost dysfunctional. What bugs me more is that this budget plan was kept secret from 99.999% of the rest of us, too.
I've talked previously, here on the blog and in academic work, about the importance of citizen participation in government budget processes. Government openness and transparency are perhaps nowhere more important than in the process of deciding how to spend our money. The Republicans' hunkering down behind closed doors to set priorities for everyone in South Dakota diminishes our sense of trust and ownership, just as it does here in Madison, where our city commission, Chamber, economic development corp, school administration... well, heck, darn near every public official approaches policy decisions as if they have to be kept secret and handled strictly by a few privileged insiders.
Other places are finding ways to involve citizens in public budgeting. The city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, started a wave of participatory budgeting experiments in Brazil in 1989. It's not a perfect model—you need to make an extra effort to make sure the process isn't dominated by wealthy folks and to reach out to citizens in poverty who are often shut out of public affairs. But is a messy public process any less perfect than a few puffed up legislators playing budget kings in secret?
Secret and state government don't belong in the same sentence. The budget belongs to all of us. We should have all ideas out on the table from the start, open for discussion by everyone. Yes, that means that when an idea like cutting SDPB comes up, some of us will raise hell. But some of us will also engage in honest conversation and make some progress toward uncovering public sentiment.
We have the tools available to open up the budget and pretty much everything else our Legislature handles to public discussion. Our legislators can and should still make the final decisions. But this Web-thingy makes it possible for them to open up the process for every citizen to contribute and debate ideas. A commitment to democracy makes it obligatory.