Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Remember when Republicans swept into power in Madison back in 2010 and promised to change the way the Legislature operated?  There would be no more budgets developed behind closed doors in caucus.  There would be no more midnight votes on the budget and that the general air of transparency would be improved from what Democrats were doing under Governor Jim Doyle.

Well here we are in 2015--and not much has changed.  The State Senate passed the budget last night around midnight--just like we were told they would not--because "we the people deserve to see government operate by the light of day" was the phrase I recall being used in 2010.  Such late night votes probably wouldn't take place if debate on the budget was scheduled to start before noon and a couple of days were set aside to allow for debate from the average workday times of nine to five.  But everybody has to meet in caucus before you can head out onto the floor--so party leadership can lean on members who may have reservations about specific provisions in the package.  We can't have the appearance of dissention in the ranks.

Today, everybody in the Senate will also be patting themselves on the back for removing the provision that would have gutted the state's Open Records Law.  I like to refer to this as the "Arsonist Firefighters"--create a disaster just so you can look like the hero by "fixing it" as well.  But there was  a measure that was inserted into the budget (even though it has NOTHING to do with fiscal policy) with no previous discussion just moments before Joint Finance Committee was set to vote on the package (again late at night) that was both non-transparent in its development and would have further hampered efforts to have transparent government.

Later today, the Assembly will begin its debate on the budget.  They too will vote unanimously to remove the Open Records provision--and promptly take credit for "saving open government in Wisconsin".  They will also start that session late into the day--guaranteeing another vote in the week hours of Thursday morning--just like they promised us five years ago would not happen anymore. 

I'm sure more than a few voters went to the polls in November of 2010 really believing that they were going to effect change upon the way things work in Madison.  Needless to say, those results have been sadly lacking.  It will be interesting to see if the electorate gives up on the hope of greater accountability in government--or if they will accept the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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