Two bills were introduced in the House that would improve the transparency of the state's various budgets, operating, capital and transportation.
HB 1721 proposed by Representatives Pike, Alexander, Wilcox, Harris, Crouse and Overstreet would create a 72-hour timeout before votes could occur on appropriation bills. According to the intent section of HB 1721:
"The legislature finds that approval of the state budget is the most important act of the legislature in any year, having profound consequences for every resident of the state. The legislature further finds that the public is entitled to a reasonable opportunity to learn how public funds are proposed to be expended before bills making appropriations become law. The legislature further finds that public notice, dissemination of information, and informed analysis of proposed budgets is an essential requisite of transparent, accountable government. The state Constitution charges the legislature, and only the legislature, with the responsibility to fund the operation of state government through the enactment of appropriations legislation. Yet the abbreviated time frame in which the legislature acts on omnibus operating appropriations legislation permits little opportunity for informed legislative deliberation or public review and discussion, which in turn impairs public trust in government. The legislature finds that many other states, in their Constitutions, statutes, or legislative rules, require a reasonable opportunity for public and legislative review of budget legislation. The legislature therefore finds that it is in the public interest to provide for an appropriate period of public and legislative review of all omnibus appropriations bills before they are acted on by the legislature and submitted to the governor for approval."
HB 1733 proposed by Representatives Riccelli, Hawkins, Bergquist, Alexander, Fitzgibbon, Buys, Tarleton, Manweller, Vick, Reykdal and Sawyer would require capital and transportation projects to be searchable by legislative district. According to the intent section of HB 1733:
"The intent of the legislature is to make state capital budget and transportation budget appropriation and expenditure data as transparent and easy to use by the public as is feasible. It is important to provide information to the public on state capital and transportation investments by legislative district and county in a format that is easy to navigate and comprehend. Providing such information contributes to governmental accountability, public participation, agency efficiency, and open government."
Hopefully the Legislature will act on both of these budget transparency proposals as well as our recommendation to: Provide mandatory public notice and waiting periods before legislative action;
Ban title only bills; and subject the legislature to the same transparency requirements that are placed on local governments.
Jason Mercier is Director, Center for Government Reform
Washington Policy Center (Olympia office). He can be reached at (360) 705-9068.