Our View: Public needs accountability. Not the shaft

“In an unprecedented move by majority lawmakers Monday night, the Democratic members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted ‘ought to pass’ on a $40 million budget proposal without a single Republican present.”

So says the GOP.

Democrats say they were forced to make this move to restore $40 million in revenue-sharing cuts that would have crippled Maine towns and cities, which is something Republicans have made very clear they would fight, so a decision was made to move ahead.

So say the Dems.

Democrats duped Republicans into believing that they would have an opportunity to debate the budget again Tuesday before the call to vote. But, then, the vote was called after Republican committee members had left Appropriations for the evening.

So says the GOP.

It wasn’t a surprise move, but a work session that was placed on the public schedule, and Republican leaders were told “in no uncertain terms” that Appropriations would be voting. Dems were trying to hold a public meeting on the bill, but Republicans refused to participate.

So say the Dems.

Nothing like a little drama to further cement party politics in the State House.

The Democrats accuse Republicans of avoiding a vote on controversial revenue-sharing cuts so constituents wouldn’t find out. Of course, when the issue comes to a floor vote, unless every Republican abstains, constituents are going to find out, anyway.

Republicans accuse Democrats of pushing the vote so they’re seen as sparing constituents ugly municipal property-tax increases, even though they could have delayed or even skipped the issue because state law includes a backstop that would have restored the cuts using future state surplus and other funding.

So, is this all magnificent grandstanding? Or have we just seen what the GOP is calling a disturbing “turning point” in state politics?

Who knows?

What we have here is a quintessential he-said/she-said — or more precisely, a Republicans-said/Democrats-said — situation.

But, then, the parties can say whatever they want about what did or didn’t happen and can explain the budget outcome any way they like, because the public will never know what actually happened.

Why?

Neither the public nor the press was present during much of the budget negotiations because talks were held behind closed doors in what the Appropriations Committee likes to call “party caucuses.”

Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, which governs the public’s access to meetings and documents, does not directly address party caucuses, and, according to the Office of the Attorney General, the issue of access “is one of statutory interpretation.”

Ahhh.

What the statute means relies on perspective (and maybe objective).

Lawmakers defend their private caucus discussions as allowable under party rules.

We accept that, to a point, such as when setting an agenda or backing certain candidates.

When it comes to discussions of public money, closed-door meetings are prohibited by state law.

Last year, when Appropriations was criticized for developing the budget in caucus, members defended the action, saying the Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion allowing them to do it.

That’s not exactly correct.

In 2010, the Attorney General’s Office issued a letter — which is a far cry from an opinion — that “party caucuses are not generally committees or subcommittees of the Legislature” designated to do the work of the Legislature and may not be subject to FOAA.

However, when a quorum of Appropriations convenes behind closed doors for the sole purpose of deciding spending, that is the designated work of the Legislature, and that is the point at which a private caucus becomes the public’s business.

In fact, the position of the Attorney General’s Office is that if enough people of one party are present to drive decisions — as certainly happened on the topic of revenue-sharing — that would be covered by FOAA. Which means these discussions must be held in public.

Can you imagine if municipal budget-writing committees developed spending cuts in private? Or school committees convened secret meetings to set spending limits?

There’s a difference in scale between municipal and state spending, certainly, but the process of setting that spending must be the same. It must be done in public so the people who end up footing the bill can witness how and why decisions are made.

Lawmakers defend secret budget talks as the only way to get things done because discussions of money can often be painful and can get contentious, and they need to talk without the glare of public scrutiny.

Why? If municipalities, schools, planning boards, water districts, county commissions and dozens of other smaller government entities are able to develop budgets under full glare, why can’t legislators? Particularly when they’re spending millions and millions of public dollars?

The Appropriations Committee could have avoided the party backlash and public suspicion if it had held all budget discussions in the open, no matter how arduous that may have been.

When that doesn’t happen, as evidenced by Tuesday’s dual-party finger-pointing, the public gets the shaft.

Just before we get the bill.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

And that, ladies and

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need a viable third party; someone who is not afraid to be honest and work FOR the PEOPLE. We certainly aren't getting that out of the donkeys and elephants.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Viable? Turd party...

You mean the Tbaggers who are attacking the very same of your party, called conservatives on all sides, to wanting to destroy the country for a mentality of wanting to control the people to believe in their ideologies? Keep dreaming pal!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Did I say Turd party? Did I

Did I say Turd party? Did I say Tbaggers? No. I didn't think so. Keep ranting; you're fun to watch.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

I am so happy I can excite you

but what is more fun to watch is your kind...ripping each others throats out....
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
How the Tea Party’s Apocalyptic Politics Are Destroying the Republican Party

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/11/how-the-tea-party-s-apo...
________________________________________________
Tea Party will destroy GOP in 2014, as Palin destroyed McCain in 2008

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/campaign/301827-tea-party-will-des...
_________________\

GLOVES OFF: GOP ESTABLISHMENT GOES AFTER TEA PARTY

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/11/02/GOP-establishment-att...

Now you Tbagging Repubs can just keep amusing US(A) in your delusional turd party expectations.....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

As you wish, comrade.

As you wish, comrade.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

What we have here folks.............

What we have here folks, is one big star on the forehead, for the Democratic party. They actually accomplished something the Republicans would have only delayed or even killed outright. Thats because it's exactly what Republicans have promised to do, block any progress in the House. That forty million has to come from someplace, a place LePage has absolutely no interest in. The People, we would be paying that money in higher property taxes, less firefighters on the job, less police officers on patrol. Fewer teachers in our schools. This is what the Republicans want. Now they have seen that with out them things do get done. I hope to see more of this in the future, because If there's one thing I hate to see, it's a happy Republican..............................

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Odd coincidence

Is it me or is it an odd coincidence that this flap came up just before the governor's speech. Could it possibly be chest thumping for the base? Seems like it. Now it is being called a misunderstanding. Seems like typical right wing strategy. Get big headlines for the fight and small headlines for the apology. None of their base ever read the apology so it works every time.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

So your saying

So your saying that the ends justify the means. Not in this case. They ( everyone in government ) are accountable to we the people ( the ones who hired them) for every action they take. This is not a banana republic yet. Government cannot make decisions based on only what works or is favored by the party in power. Either party.

What happened to the days when both parties worked together to make the USA such a great place. Politicians these days sound like high school girls for all the drama that comes from both sides of the isle.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

What happened ...called Conservatism with a twist of Tbagging

What happened to the days when both parties worked together to make the USA such a great place.

It is called GOP...Group of Obstructionist....with a mixture of Tbagging numbskulls...

As long as they Repubs/Tbaggers mixed, are around the people, much more the country suffers....

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Sorry, but no.

Government is no longer accountable to we the people. Government is run by mutinational corporations who buy Senators or Representatives who, in turn, vote the way corporations demand, or else face a cut-off in millions of dollars for re-election.

All "elected" members of congress spend 2/3s of their time gathering money for their war chests so that they will have mega bucks to defeat anyone who runs against them. Now that the Supreme Court has passed Citizens United, which gives corporations the go-ahead with unlimited "donations", we the people don't stand a chance of being represented by anyone. Unless, of course, you are super wealthy and can afford to have a congress critter or two in your back pocket doing your bidding.

I don't remember a time when "both parties worked together to make the USA a great place". I do know and remember where the 40 hour work week came from and all the benefits that came with it - unions. Not government. Unions.

And yet, you, I suspect, would be one of those who bad mouth unions and all the protections for the American workers they got passed. Until workers can understand these simple facts, jobs, wages,and benefits will continue to disappear. As individuals, we have no power to protect the American Dream. In numbers there is strength.

That Unions once made great

That Unions once made great strides for the good of us all -- and deserve our thanks for it -- does not mean they are still a force for good in our society. It also does not mean there will be a return to 80 hour workweeks with no weekends and loss of all benefits if they go away. The 88% of us not in unions are still working only 40 hours a week (if we choose) The fact is that the major unions have lost their way. They no longer push for fairness in the work place. They push for advantage, a chance to stick it to management. While they once caused work stoppages over excessive hours and slave wages, now they do it over small changes in health benefits that are already more generous than most of us get, and they feel that driving a company out of business (Wonder/Hostess) is an achievement to be proud of.

It is telling that the Unions continuously fall back on bragging about achievements of 80, 90 years ago. What have they done more recently that the rest of us have benefitted from?

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

My good friend and attorney does a whole lot more everyday

Matt works all over the country thru our General Office in DC, getting legislatures and AG's nationwide to look into corrupt contractors using miss-classifications and 1099'ers that are stealing billions of tax revenues from states from tax evasions to workman's compensation frauds to not paying workers prevailing wage to miss-classifying workers.

He is showing how these corrupt contractors of the non union are stealing millions of taxpayers dollars of revenues that the state losses annually. He has provided many documents and newspaper documentation of these crooks going to jail and paying heavy fines and paying restitution back to the states to me personally.

Your view and knowledge is not a full up to date scope of what the Unions are doing today to still preserve and protect workers rights and taxpayers dollars and rights for a better equality and a level playing field.

I could hand over a hundred of cases that Matt emails me, that he has intervene on, that I keep on file to pass forward to other Union members and locals, almost weekly of the many states nationwide. NOW, going after abusers, tax dodgers, that are screwing over the workers and the taxpayers like you and others that are not even Union. Unions are still doing the serve and protect for all Americans still to this day.

Don't fool yourself, Repubs have and are still trying to lessen laws on overtime and pay, child labor laws, eliminating the OSHA administration and eliminating prevailing wage that keeps wages fair and balanced in your counties for non union to have equal pay and benefits. Keeping state work in your state by workers of that state and not out of state companies coming in and using their out state workers and taking those monies out of those states.

We do more than many will ever know about to preserve workers rights and protections. Why do you think union busting is still happening and captive audiences at Walmart and Target and other corporations are being indoctrinated about Unions being bad. We have have lectures and testimonies of past Union busters, hired attorneys that now attend our conventions informing us of what corporations and owners are doing to workers and they, now are getting a heart and see and have experienced the wrong, and see what is totally wrong with the techniques and lies that workers are abused with.

That is why legislatures are still trying to pass bills to prevent workers from being able to organize. Because greed and corruption of the right wing is the next reality for workers to live and breath discrimination at the work place with less wages and no benefits.

THOMAS FALLON 's picture

Yes...

the public, citizens, need accountability, not this political game.

Revenue sharing

Lepage'scuts to this program the last 2 years has been responsible for greater increases in local property taxes both years;ask your city councilors!

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Exactly!

I don't need a pitiful $16.00 cut in state taxes. My property taxes have gone up much more than that because of loss of revenue sharing. And I blame LePage and his vendetta against Maine people. Maine people that are not rich, that is.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

The bigger picture

With this dweeb in office, my taxes on my properties has increased and the property value has decreased....That is a LePage trait of being out of touch and disconnected from the working peoples reality and on a larger scale.

Maine needs to remove this corporate sucking minion ASAP....

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