Protecting transparency

The state budget harms public access to government information

Transparency in government remains one of the victims of state budget cuts. Governor Brown’s spending plans still exclude funding in this area, to the detriment of access to information by citizens and taxpayers.

On this occasion, the state government aims to save tens of millions of dollars by taking away money local governments had been receiving up to now to cover the costs of information requests under the Public Records Act, thereby eliminating local government’s obligation to honor such requests.

Something similar happened last year when to save nearly $20 million, the requirements imposed by the open-meetings law were scaled back. Consequently, it is no longer necessary to provide three days’ notice when holding a public meeting.

The Brown administration assures that it does not intend for these cuts to have a negative impact, claiming that both advanced notice and access to information should be “best practices of government.”

This is true, but it is already established that without state money, these mandates are unfunded, and therefore, cities are not required to abide by them. This freedom allows authorities to block public access to information, and we already know from the case of the city of Bell what can happen in a government behind closed doors.

Moreover, in 2011, Brown eliminated the website devoted to transparency to scatter the information across other sites. Meanwhile, this year, the U.S.PIRG Education Fund ranked California second-to-last among all the states in the nation in lack of transparency in government spending.

It is alarming that the importance of government transparency is losing value with the argument of the deficit. It is dangerous to consider citizens’ access to information as just another cost that can be cut. Experience shows that public oversight of the authorities is essential to keep public officials honest. That is why it is necessary to strengthen this system rather than dismantle it.