A Funny Kind of “Transparency”

The current session of the Alaska Legislature is scheduled to end April 19, 2015. And Alaskans still haven’t seen the proposed capital budget. We’re more than nine-tenths of the way through the session, and there is no substantive bill.

There’s talk. Governor Walker proposed a capital budget, but the State Senate has blown it off. There have been any number of meetings, but all of them have been behind closed doors. The Anchorage Daily Dispatch reports the State Senate leaders as saying it’s open and transparent. A funny kind of transparency, don’t you agree, when the voters, the citizens are denied all information about what’s in the bill.

CAPSIS is a perfect symbol for the Senate’s secrecy. It’s the new, password-protcected portal to the capital budget process. Legislators can see what’s in it. Citizens cannot. To this date, all capital budget decisions – decisions about what the State of Alaska will build and where the next few years – have been bade in secret. Job, repair of our infrastructure, new schools and repair of old schools; all kept secret from us.

State senators MacKinnon, Meyer and Dunleavy all protest that the process is “not secret.” Perhaps they are confused about what “secret” means. “Secret” is when only a self-selected few are permitted access to information, and everyone else is denied access. That’s a perfect description of what the Senate majority caucus is doing. “Everyone else” – that would include you and WC – don’t get to know anything about what’s being decided.

Or perhaps the Senators have lapsed into Orwellian double-speak, where words mean the opposite of what you think.

Or perhaps they are just lying like rugs.

You can think it is wrong because you are idealistic: it’s not the way they taught it in grade school civics class. You remember; legislators listen respectfully to the views of the citizens and then choose the best path for the greatest number from the competing demands, debating the options in a public forum. You can think it is wrong because you are cynical: some of us remember all too clearly the Corrupt Bastards Club, and the opportunities for illegal chicanery behind closed doors. The public has no reason to trust what goes on behind closed doors because the public is not there. The cynic assumes there is corruption because they refuse to tell us what they are doing. You can think it is wrong because it is poor strategy: the Legislature needs to persuade Alaskans that they are making responsible, reasonable cuts to the capital budget. You can’t do that if you conduct all but the stamp of approval behind closed doors.

Any way you look at it, the secrecy – and the refusal to admit there is secrecy – is wrong, corrosively wrong in a republican form of government.

Some readers have accused WC of being too harsh on the current state legislature. They have a difficult job, those readers says, cut them some slack.

No. Their conduct, whether it is indiscriminate cuts to the budget or the refusal to admit it’s a revenue, not a spending problem, is outrageous and indefensible. Their violations of their oaths of office in passing patently unconstitutional laws are criminal. Their blaming the federal government for Alaska’s woes and attempts to distract Alaskans from the real issues are disgustingly cynical.

If anything, WC hasn’t been harsh enough.