It was 2007 and House Speaker Lance Cargill’s call to me occurred a few weeks following the start of my first legislative session. As a legislative freshman, I had already observed the great power held by the Speaker of the House. I knew to take Cargill’s call very seriously.
It was a routine call. Cargill, an extremely savvy officer holder, knew the importance of keeping in contact with House members.
He was clearly touching bases with the new legislators and wanted our thoughts and feedback.
I instinctively decided to honor his request with my honest input. Due to his tremendous power, I think it’s extremely difficult for the Speaker to get honest feedback from legislators. I figure the best way to help the Speaker is to show complete lack of fear of retaliation, and simply tell him the truth. The Speaker is well advised to listen attentively to his most honest critics.
In that call, I told Cargill of my view of the state budget process. Though we had held the briefest of budget hearings, it seemed that we as legislators had very little meaningful purview of the budget. In this, the most important job we have as legislators, we had almost no real responsibilities.
Cargill assured me that our budget purview would grow as the session progressed. Cargill had designed a new committee system which consolidated both policy and appropriations authority within single committees as opposed to the traditional system which separated out policy and appropriations.
For example, as the Vice-Chairman of the Homeland Security SubCommittee, I was supposed to both vote on public safety polices, and have oversight of the budgets of the public safety entities.
This compares to the traditional committee system in which policy committees consider bills and budget committees look at the budget.
Cargill’s system allowed legislators to specialize in their areas of interest and sought to empower legislators with true oversight.
It was a good effort. But, it didn’t work.
Cargills’ reform never grew up.
That year’s budget short circuited the committee system, and within a year Cargill was no longer the Speaker and the House soon reverted back to the old system.
House members simply weren’t ready for the change. They didn’t have the temperament to see it through and once the visionary was no longer in office, they gave up on the reform and resorted back to the comfortable status-quo to which they had become accustomed.
Ever since, legislators have invariably and almost uniformly spoken of the need for a better budgeting process. They claim a desire to take on the power and responsibility to do their job on behalf of the taxpayers; however, they have never shown the discipline to actually take control of the process. Instead they have continued to cede their authority to a few individuals who negotiate the budget behind closed doors, working out the details away from public purview, with limited transparency and almost no due process.
In next week’s article, I intend to describe some of the bad outcomes which naturally occur from this lack of transparency and due process.