May 12, 2017 – We live in a representative democracy — a republic. We put a few things up to a full vote of the people, but those things are few and far between, and typically only happen if proposed change requires that we adjust our State Constitution. Otherwise, we vote for people to represent our best interests, and as I’ve said so very many times before, we then work to make sure that they understand what is in our best interest and how their actions support or fail to support those things.
I’m not entirely sure why this year’s state budget process has been more frustrating to me than in year’s past. Some of the things that have been happening that severely limit the public’s opportunity (and even the full Legislature’s opportunity) to weigh in on these most important decisions are not new and have been moving in this direction for several years now. I think that part of my frustration has been how the Legislators themselves have been talking about it.
Chairs of several Appropriations Subcommittees, where the real nuts and bolts of budget decision making is done, have publicly talked about how their work is not the “end” of the budget process, that many of these issues are still “being discussed.” They have also expressed frustration with the current process. While they may feel that way, they did not take steps to continue that discussion among anyone but the very small, and rapidly decreasing, number of legislators who will be serving on budget conference committees to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of how we spend the billions of dollars under our control.
So, I for one don’t think that what has happened in the budget process so far is worthy of our votes. Here’s what we expect and yes, what we must demand, for our support:
- An ability to share our thoughts and concerns.
- A path to understand the actions of our elected officials.
- A voice in important decisions about priorities.
If those who represent us, at the state and federal level, are not working hard to make sure that we have all three of those things, they are not worthy of our vote. Of course, if we aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities that they are providing, then that is on us.
This state budget process provided virtually no opportunity for the public to comment on proposed spending priorities other than the Governor’s recommendations. The House and Senate revealed their versions of the budget in subcommittees and voted them out of those committees in the very same meetings. During the full appropriations committee meetings and on the floor of the chambers, steps were taken to limit amendments and discussion, even amongst the Legislators themselves.
This is not what we expect from those who we’ve elected to represent us. We need to demand better. There is still some time to express your state investment priorities to your elected officials. But, keep in mind that the messaging now has to be how all legislators must champion their constituents’ priorities with the small number of their colleagues who will finish those decisions in the next month. There is always time to express your expectations to your elected officials, and make sure they are well aware of what it takes to win your vote and the votes of many others in their communities.
– Michele Corey