It was tempting to name every single Republican who voted “no” on HB1256 this week to the SAB Hall of Shame, but I wanted to focus instead on those who rose to argue against the bill which would have created a central state database for all local spending in the state.
Rep. Nancy Johnson spoke of a new website dedicated to indexing, and making searchable, local spending as costing in the ballpark of $390,000. “We didn’t think it was appropriate to tack on that kind of cost right now.” But that’s cheap compared to the benefit for citizens, journalists and (ahem), bloggers. I’m about as fiscally conservative as they come, but spending $390,000 to make local spending facts more accessible is a bargain.
But Rep. Johnson’s silly objection to the cost of the bill paled in comparison to Rep. Lawrence Kelmin’s far more absurd argument. “What this is requiring to be done is something that can be obtained either on request from all of these several thousand political subdivisions by people who are interested in seeing it,” he argued on the floor of the House.
Klemin is right, spending information is already available upon request from the political subdivisions, but anyone who has ever made some of those requests (and I’ve made a lot of them) know that it can be time consuming. Most local officials are very helpful, but they’re also busy people who can’t immediately respond to every request. What’s more, a minority of them are quite unhelpful and suspicious of good-faith requests for information.
Creating a statewide index of spending would not only mean less work in the long run for local officials, given that most requesting information could be directed to the website where they could find it for themselves, but it would also mean a timelier and more accurate flow of information to the public. Plus, comparisons in spending from city-to-city, or county-to-county, would be immeasurably easier.
Aren’t those things we want?
Rep. Klemin, Rep. Johnson and every other member of the House who voted against this bill weren’t motivated by concerns over cost of duplicative efforts. They’re motivated by a desire to keep local spending opaque, helped along by fierce lobbying efforts from the local governments themselves through groups like the Association of Counties and the League of Cities.
Legislators who vote against the public’s right to know deserve the Hall of Shame.
And, frankly, the North Dakota media should get an honorary mention for the Hall of Shame for not making a bigger stink about legislators roadblocking transparency.