Transparency unclear at the state level

Transparency in government is one of those terms that has been tossed around very liberally lately, but actually put in to use very little. Transparency is what is intended to make it easy for the taxpayer and voter to see what exactly is going on in their government. This includes elected officials as well as governmental agencies and organizations.

The Open Meetings and Open Records laws passed by our state legislature are intended to make all governmental information and actions available to the public. County elected officials are required by law to take courses on the Open Meetings and Open Records laws. I think it odd that something as important as this is not required of state elected officials, but then they are the guys that make the laws.

We are currently in the process of getting the 2010 budget passed. In doing so the Legislature has set up many "hoops" that must be jumped through in the name of transparency of government.

One good example is that we have to publish notice and hold public hearings on a tax revenue increase. An increase that is due to an increase in appraised values and new construction that has been placed on the tax rolls during the year. Mind you the actual tax rate for Milam County is going to decrease one cent, and some folks county tax bills will decrease.

We are also required to hold public hearings on the budget and make sure that the budget is available for public inspections. There are also timelines that must be complied with to insure the public will have the opportunity to view the budget if they so desire. I personally am all for this focus on transparency, but where does it exist in state government?

For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to locate the balance of the 911 Emergency Service Fee Fund created in Chapter 771 of the Health and safety code. This statute passed in 1987 during the 70th Legislative session provides for a 50-cent fee to be imposed on every phone line in the state of Texas. This funding is dedicated to the implementation and maintenance of the 911 system in the state.

The fee has generated millions of dollars since its inception. My quest has been to locate a balance that is in the fund. I am sure it is out there, but I do consider myself resourceful in locating information, and this is one time I am not having much success.

Seems as though any funds from the fund, must be appropriated by the legislature to be spent. If it is not appropriated it is not spent. The remaining balance of the fund can be plugged in the budget to make the state budget look a little bit better than it really is. Enron economics?

There is a need for more transparency in state government. A citizen should be able to easily access a summary or a detailed copy of the state budget via the internet that is easily understood by the average person. And not just via the internet. Why not require the state to file a budget with each county clerk in each county?

As my Mother always used to say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." So when we look at state or federal government we should have the same degree of transparency required of local government.

Whether it is local taxes, a state fund or the national health plan it needs to be transparent so that we all can see what is really on the other side. Then and only then can we make informed rational decisions about what we think about a particular issue.

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2009-08-27 digital edition

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