Budget Transparency Will Make California Accountable
by Mike Morrell
The next time you’re in the state capitol, come visit the Assembly Chamber and look for the assembly motto. It declares:
“Legislatorum est justas leges condere,” Latin for, “It is the duty of the legislature to enact just laws.”
This noble pronouncement, the guiding rule passed down from our California forefathers, is a conclusion drawn from an inferred understanding of the meaning of justice. What, then, is justice?
This question – What is justice? – is the driving question in the history of politics. It is the purpose of government to answer this question correctly. More importantly, it is government’s responsibility to see that justice is rendered to each citizen.
In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson – the document’s primary architect – writes that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Just government, the Founders believed, is that which derives its authority from the consent of the people. The idea that sovereignty belongs with the people, and not a tyrant or king, is a self-evident truth written in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” It is a reality based on the fundamental principle that “all men are created equal” with “the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
As the Declaration of Independence demonstrates, the Founders had a profound understanding of government’s limited yet powerful ends, as well as the importance of keeping those in power accountable to these ends. They realized that accountability is a key cornerstone of the Republic in which we live, and that transparency is the prerequisite for government to be accountable. In the end, the “consent of the governed,” from which government derives its just powers, is much more meaningful if it is informed consent.
In today’s digital age, there is no justification for keeping taxpayers in the dark. Every citizen in California has the right to know what organizations are funded with his or her hard-earned tax dollars. The public’s right to know helps safeguard a just democracy.
In 2006, the U.S. Congress took a large step toward greater transparency at the national level by passing the Federal Funding and Transparency Act, which required the creation of a searchable online database with detailed information on federal expenditures. Three years later, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger increased transparency for the California state government, issuing a memorandum to all Governor’s staff, agency secretaries, and department directors to make the Statement of Economic Interests, Form 700, and the Travel Expense claims publicly available. These transparency measures provide increased accountability in both our national and state government by allowing the public electronic access to expenditure information.
Though these new laws move us closer toward an open and transparent law-making process, I am learning that there is still work to be done. I was recently asked to vote on a part of the proposed budget of California – a complicated multi-volume document. Yet the first time I saw any information related to this budget was two hours before the vote was taken. It astonished me to find this is how Sacramento handles its fiscal business.
This is why I have introduced AB 998, which would require the full final budget bill to be available “online” to California citizens three days before the Legislature takes a vote. This budget transparency bill is just one of the many foundational changes that must be made to ensure that our government is open to Californians about where their money goes. If our government can demonstrate this kind of honesty, then we as citizens will know that just laws are being made.
Join with me in supporting AB 998 to make California’s budget process transparent and open to the people – the hardworking individuals our government was designed to represent.
It’s our money, after all, and we have the right to know how it’s being spent by our government.
This message was paid for by Mike Morrell for Assembly 2012