Can the state budget process be reformed? Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin thinks it can, but legislators will need to end their own exemption to the state's open meetings law, and stop the practice of raising campaign cash while the budget process is underway.
Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law requires that local governments conduct their business in public, but the law was written to exempt the legislature's partisan caucuses, where a majority of the real budget work takes place behind closed doors. "This (exemption) has been in place for 33 years," notes Heck. "We need to start somewhere, and I think Assembly Bill 143 is excellent, and I commend the authors, Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) and Corey Mason (D-Racine). I'm sure they're not popular with their respective leaders, but they're certainly doing the right thing."
Fundraising for political campaigns should not happen during the budget process, says Heck. "Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker even said fairly recently that he thought it was fine to raise money during the budget because people can look up the reports later and see what was done, and that's just outrageous," Heck says. "What we really need is legislation ( Assembly Bill 42 ) that bans all campaign fundraising from the time the governor begins work on the budget . . . until the time when it's actually signed into law."
Heck says the closed door budget meetings and fundraising during the budget process undermines confidence in state government, already at an all time low.