Last week we talked in this space about snakes, and we will continue with that theme this week.
I am talking about the recently convened session of the Texas Legislature.
A lot of the news coming out about the end of the session concerned the measures that were passed dealing with the dueling issues of property tax reform and public school finance.
While it would appear that the albatross that has long hung around the necks of state lawmakers has been lifted at least partially – assuming that a strong Texas economy continues for a few more years – there was a bit of a midnight surprise that was hidden amidst the congratulations and back-slapping.
And in the bitterest of ironies, the amendment that removed a key public notice provision from the law was contained in a bill whose title includes the word transparency. And heading into Memorial Day weekend and graduations, no less.
If you want to watch a little acrobatic act, find the video of the explanation of the removal of the provision while under questioning from Rep. Davis.
The requirement means that the notice on the final vote to raise taxes will appear only on the entity’s website, and Davis questioned whether that discriminated against those who don’t use the internet, and indeed those with no or limited access.
One of the reasons this is such a shady deal is that lawmakers used the trick of going outside the rules during the conference committee process of resolving differences between the Senate and House versions of the bills.
They knew full well that if such an amendment had been attempted during the regular legislative process, with full hearings and such, that it would not have stood the light of day.
Now before you go thinking that this is just so much whining by newspapers, be assured, that we will continue to report on any and all tax increases proposed by local government bodies whether they file a notice in the paper or don’t.
I saw one comment that was hopeful that entities would do the right thing and publish these notices anyway. I suppose it is possible, but I won’t be holding my breath. Perhaps those in charge of Wood County budgets will surprise me.
In the meantime, if you have a chance to ask your senator or representative why they were in favor of such an amendment (and to be fair the way the vote was structured gave them little choice), be sure and mention that less notice does not equal more transparency.
The other issue with removing one notice requirement is that this is just another step in the slow erosion of government transparency. Sure most of the world is moving to the internet, but no one seems to be concerned with the ready ability to manipulate anything that exists only online.
Once it’s printed in the paper, you can go back months and years from now and show exactly what was published.
I hope that matters to you, and that having your government, that is spending your money, do everything it can to be open and honest and accountable to you is vitally important.