As Minnesota political leaders implement Government Secrecy 2.0 with closed door negotiations on the state budget, we urge them to make available to the public records of emails, correspondence and conversations in a way that the people can know what went down, even if it’s after the fact.
That would be one way to bring a modicum of accountability back to a process that grows more secret by the year. In budget negotiations two years ago, Gov. Tim Walz, Senate GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman also met in closed door sessions with Walz eventually admitting it was the only way to reach compromise.
Walz, and others, have said having these discussions in public or in hearings, simply makes them more political and more difficult to reach an agreement. The political atmosphere is so toxic, apparently, that reasonable people can’t work reasonably in public.
The situation is slightly better this year. Walz and the GOP reached a budget agreement outline in May and planned conference committee meetings and bills that would be more open to the public. And legislators also were to have more time to review the bills before voting. But the final versions of 13 of 14 omnibus spending and policy bills were not yet available for public inspection as of Monday.
This leaves the public in the dark. One striking example involves the controversial plan to prohibit use of e-pulltabs in bars that fund hundreds of charitable organizations around the state. Democrats generally were favoring removal of the pulltabs, arguing they had become too much like slot machines, which, in Minnesota, only tribal nations are allowed to offer.
The language changing the policy was apparently no longer in the omnibus commerce bill. But no one could verify that, as the language wasn’t made public.
And now those committees have missed two deadlines.Things, once again, appear to be coming down to the wire.
We can give the benefit of the doubt, grudgingly, to Walz and legislative leaders for not having more public discussions on negotiations, but we believe the public deserves transcripts of phone calls, emails and correspondence that shed light on the negotiations, even after the fact.
Partial transparency is better than secrecy.