Removing names from public salaries tramples principles of transparency.

There is a disturbing effort by some legislators – most notably the leadership of the Maine Senate – to eliminate the rights of Maine taxpayers to access public information regarding the salaries of taxpayer-paid employees.

Sen. Lisa Marrache, D-Waterville, is the Asst. Majority Leader in the Senate and sponsor of LD 1353: “An Act Regarding Salary Information for Public Employees.”

Sen. Marrache’s bill is simple, yet troubling. A summary by the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes explains that “This bill provides that salary information as it relates to an individual state, county, municipal, school, University of Maine System, Maine Community College System or Maine Maritime Academy employee is confidential. Salary information as it relates to specified positions, identified by those positions, is public information.”

With these two sentences, Sen. Marrache would hide the names of some 90,000 government and school employees whose salaries are paid with public dollars. This bill shuts down government transparency and tramples our right to know how our tax dollars are spent. This information has always been public, in every state, and gives us the ability to hold government accountable, something that clearly offends Sen. Marrache and the co-sponsors of her bill.

Joining Sen. Marrache in this assault on government transparency from the Senate is President Libby Mitchell of Vassalboro, Sen. Deb Simpson of Auburn, Sen. Lawrence Bliss of South Portland and and Sen. Peter Bowman of Kittery.

Co-sponsors from the House are Rep. Anna Blodgett of Augusta, Rep. Patsy Crockett of Augusta, Rep. Mark Bryant of Windham and Rep. Nancy Smith of Monmouth. By sponsoring this bill, these politicians snubbed a nationwide movement to expand access to government.

On Jan. 21, just one day after being sworn in as President, Barack Obama had this to say:

“The way to make a government responsible is not simply to enlist the services of responsible men and women, or to sign laws that ensure that they never stray. The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they’re being made, and whether their interests are being well served.”

While a new president is doubling efforts to make the federal government more open and accessible, Sen. Marrache and the other co-sponsors are taking the opposite approach by hiding public information and closing off government to Mainers.

Rather than working with transparency advocates to expand access to public information, the sponsors have forced us to defend existing policies to protect our right to know how our tax dollars are spent.

How dare these politicians try to blindfold the citizens and taxpayers of Maine? What are they trying to hide?

Sen. Marrache’s bill advances an agenda of secrecy in government. It opens the door for taxpayer-paid bonuses and salary hikes to occur in the shadows. Hiding public salary information is the first step. If this bill passes, what’s next?

Will these politicians try to overturn Maine’s Freedom of Information Act or craft policies authorizing government censorship of newspapers that report on the Legislature?

How long before public access to our State House is blocked entirely?

Sponsors of this bill see no harm in hiding salary information of taxpayer-paid employees from the public, and they have been blatant in their contempt of advcoates for government transparency.

In an April 14 column in the Kennebec Journal, Sen. Marrache referred to opponents of her bill as “sleazy” and “voyeuristic.” She forgets that, as taxpayers, public employees work for us. Each of these employees knew they were hired for a public, taxpayer-paid position when they accepted the job.

We cannot ignore politicians’ efforts to hide this information from us. Open government is vital and necessary to hold politicians accountable.

It must be protected and preserved.

LD 1353 is the greatest threat to government transparency Maine has ever seen. Sen. Marrache and the other sponsors appear as if they want to turn our government into a secret society. We cannot let them achieve their goal of government in the shadows.

We have a right to access this public information. That right must never be questioned.

Chris Cinquemani is the public relations director for Maine Leads, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit citizen group committed to lower taxes and government transparency in Maine. E-mail [email protected]

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