A legislator recently asked a League of Women Voters member what we meant by transparency in government. To the legislator and all elected leaders, I would say we demand openness in government and the informed involvement of citizens in decision making – not decisions by executive or legislative fiat.
We now have only hints, rumors and cliff-hangers suggesting enormous changes are coming from behind the veil of the governor’s office.
Even the new voting law’s significant changes still lie largely unexplained to the voters. Recent calls to eight random Kansas counties’ Division of Motor Vehicles offices showed that not even their workers knew about the legal requirement to provide the state-issued, free photo ID for voting.
In his State of the State speech Wednesday, will Gov. Sam Brownback lead with transparency, or will he be vague and then go back behind his curtain to make and push policy drawn up in secret with advice from who knows whom?
The hints suggest big issues. Cuts to state’s income tax, which provides half of the state’s revenue. What will happen to the investments in education, transportation, public safety and other areas crucial to making the state attractive for families and businesses?
Will schools have the resources they need to provide an education that helps people compete for good jobs in today’s global economy? Can Kansas really run an effective health care system by putting it into the hands, as rumored, of for-profit businesses mandated to put income in their own coffers?
To make up for the drastic income tax cuts, will the governor propose putting sales taxes on services? Or utilities and farm equipment, as Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan hinted?
Or will a reduction in state funds just throw the responsibility on local governments to raise property taxes to pay for needed schools and services? This happened in some counties where the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services eliminated offices. The governor’s plans are secret.
Who will pay more and who will pay less?
Kansans want their state government to be open and accountable and for it to spend not one penny more than necessary. We elect our public officials to be stewards of the state’s future, and to do so with open government. We also need an informed and involved public to do this. We can’t do this with secret plans. There must be no secrets in a democracy.
That’s why it is so important for the speech by the governor to contain more than just numbers and policy ideas. It also should explain how the process will move forward – specifically, how interested Kansans can engage in the debate.
Kansas has a strong tie to the Wizard of Oz, a fictional man behind a curtain pulling secret levers. We do not need real Kansas government conducted secretly behind a curtain. Open government is the essence of democracy.