Greater transparency crucial for sound state budgeting

Excerpted from Capitol Weekly

August 30, 2021

Assemblyman Vince Fong

We’re nearly two months into the new fiscal year, and four budget bills and approximately 50 budget-related policy bills later, Californians continue to wait for solutions to our state’s most pressing crisis — drought, water storage, and wildfire mitigation.

Meaningful reforms to fix state agencies like EDD, or the replenishment of the $7.8 billion borrowed from the state’s Rainy Day Fund last year have not yet been addressed.

This year, however, negotiations were done behind closed doors with little public input. Public access to the committee hearings was limited.

Minutes before the midnight deadline on July 12, Gov. Newsom touted “signing transformative state budget legislation,” Senate Bill 129 better known as Budget 2.0 that the Legislature passed on June 28.

But with the governor at the helm, this year’s budget is still unfinished – the result of the least transparent process we have seen in years.

In a normal budget year, each house of the Legislature deliberates the governor’s spending proposal separately. At the conclusion of their deliberations, they convene a Conference Committee to hash out their differences in a transparent public venue.  These Conference Committee hearings give the public ample time to share their experiences and opinions on how a particular program or service impacts them or their loved ones. The final product is then voted on by the full Senate and Assembly before the measure moves to the governor’s office for his signature.

This year, however, negotiations were done behind closed doors with little public input.

Public access to the committee hearings was limited. The public was only allowed to chime in by stating their name, organization and a support or oppose position. Rubbing salt into the wound, the governor tacked on significant policy changes to laws and regulations.

Transparency and public participation are cornerstones of our democracy, yet major budget decisions that affect tens of millions of Californians are being made without either.

This is not the way the state budget process should work.

Democracy is complicated. Elected officials must listen to the views of all interested parties regardless of the length of their testimony, before voting to spend taxpayer dollars. We serve the people, not the other way around.

How are everyday Californians better served by this never-ending budget? How much longer do Californians have to wait to find out how their state government spends their money? How can we involve the public more in the process?

The people deserve to have more a transparent budget process that gives them access to the proceedings and allows their opinions to be heard. They deserve to be the most important voices in determining our state’s priorities.

The governor lauds his phan for the state. In reality, that plan must return to a budget process based on public involvement and transparency.

Californians deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent and be active participants.

Editor’s Note: Assemblymember Vince Fong of Bakersfield, a Republican, is the vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee and represents the 34th District.