Budget Transparency Will Make California Accountable

Senator Mike Morrell
California State Senate, 23rd District

The next time you’re in the state capitol, come visit the Assembly
Chamber and look for the assembly motto. It declares: "Legislatorum est justas
leges condere," Latin for, "It is the duty of the legislature to enact just
laws."

This noble pronouncement, the guiding rule passed down from our
California forefathers, is a conclusion drawn from an inferred understanding of
the meaning of justice. What, then, is justice?

This question – What is justice? – is the driving question in the
history of politics. It is the purpose of government to answer this question correctly.
More importantly, it is government’s responsibility to see that justice is
rendered to each citizen.

In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson – the document’s
primary architect – writes that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving
their just powers from the consent of
the governed." Just government, the Founders believed, is that which derives
its authority from the consent of the people. The idea that sovereignty belongs
with the people, and not a tyrant or king, is a self-evident truth written in
"the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God." It is a reality based on the
fundamental principle that "all men are created equal" with "the unalienable
rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

As the Declaration of Independence demonstrates, the Founders had a
profound understanding of government’s limited yet powerful ends, as well as the
importance of keeping those in power accountable to these ends. They realized
that accountability is a key cornerstone of the Republic in which we live, and
that transparency is the prerequisite for government to be accountable. In the
end, the "consent of the governed," from which government derives its just
powers, is much more meaningful if it is
informed
consent.

In today’s digital age, there is no justification for keeping
taxpayers in the dark. Every citizen in California has the right to know what organizations
are funded with his or her hard-earned tax dollars. The public’s right to know
helps safeguard a just democracy.

In 2006, the U.S. Congress took a large step toward greater transparency
at the national level by passing the Federal Funding and Transparency Act,
which required the creation of a searchable online database with detailed
information on federal expenditures. Three years later, Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger increased transparency for the California state government,
issuing a memorandum to all Governor’s staff, agency secretaries, and
department directors to make the Statement of Economic Interests, Form 700, and
the Travel Expense claims publicly available. These transparency measures
provide increased accountability in both our national and state government by
allowing the public electronic access to expenditure information.

Though these new laws move us closer toward an open and transparent
law-making process, I am learning that there is still work to be done. I was
recently asked to vote on a part of the proposed budget of California – a complicated
multi-volume document. Yet the first time I saw any information related to this
budget was two hours before the vote
was taken. It astonished me to find this is how Sacramento handles its fiscal business.

This is why I have introduced AB 998, which would require the full
final budget bill to be available "online" to California citizens three days
before the Legislature takes a vote. This budget transparency bill is just one
of the many foundational changes that must be made to ensure that our
government is open to Californians about where their money goes. If our
government can demonstrate this kind of honesty, then we as citizens will know
that just laws are being made.

Join with me in supporting AB 998 to make California’s budget process
transparent and open to the people – the hardworking individuals our government
was designed to represent.

It’s our money, after all, and we have the right to know how it’s
being spent by our government.

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