Write budget in the open

From Jane B. Pinsky, director of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform:

For more than two years the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform has pushed for increased openness in the legislative procedure, especially the budget process. We have made some progress and the General assembly has taken some positive steps.

However, the current session highlights the need for greater openness and transparency and for making additional improvements in the budget process. We believe these improvements are in the best interest of continuing to restore public trust in government.

There is a better way. The process should:

Be more open and accountable with decisions made in public.

Operate within a framework with an organized procedure, time frames and deadlines.

Contain a prohibition against including non-money items or special provisions in the budget.

Allow legislators three days to review the budget after it is unveiled.

Make all budget information available via the Internet as it is printed.

Make available copies of any proposed budgets from the governor's office or the state budget office or departments at least 24 hours before they are presented to the appropriations or finance committees.

Make all information available to legislators and legislative staff on the internal computer system available to the public on the Internet.

Have at least 24 hours for review of any proposed committee substitute by both legislators and the public before it is discussed in a committee or a subcommittee meeting.

Announce all committee or subcommittee meetings to members, staff and public at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.

Hold all meetings in meeting rooms in the Legislative Building or Legislative Office Building – not around a member's desk, in their office or in a hallway.

Make all Finance or Appropriations Committee, subcommittee and conference meetings available to the public via streaming and then via real time audio and television broadcast once the systems are established at the General Assembly.

If the General Assembly wants to continue to enjoy the confidence and support of our citizens, then it must open up this critical process and create a budget that truly belongs to the people of North Carolina. In the May 6 primary, North Carolinians proved they are more than willing to participate in our government if they believe in it and if given a chance. Now is the time to give them that chance. Make the budget process open to all citizens.