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Making state government open for you
SC Sen. Shane Massey
posted August 20, 2008
GUEST COLUMN – I’m a big fan of the
Olympics, but this isn’t a column about those exciting games in
Beijing. My thoughts today are about an Olympic-sized gap in the
openness of state government. I want to close that gap, and
taking this step will continue our effort to shake things up in
It’s all about how your tax money is spent and who is spending it.
I have made transparency in government a focus of my efforts in the
S.C. Senate because you’ve told me that’s important to you. You
may remember that the first bill I introduced in the Senate was to
require my fellow legislators to put their names on requests for
funding for local projects, also known as earmarks. It’s another
way to keep them from hiding how they spend your money.
Now, it’s time to take the next step to make your state elected
officials even more accountable.
Voice votes vs. roll calls
Under current rules in the General Assembly, many important bills are
decided on a voice vote. A voice vote gives legislators a chance
to hide under the cover of anonymity by just saying “yes” or “no” aloud
as a group without ever registering how we vote. Oftentimes, it’s
easier to find a lost sock than to find out how a legislator voted.
There’s a solution for this problem: “roll call” votes. In
the Senate, the clerk literally calls the roll, and each legislator has
to say exactly how he or she votes on each bill. Currently, roll
call votes are held in the General Assembly about 5 percent of the
time, according to the South Carolina Policy Council, a non-partisan
public policy research foundation.
On many bills, voice votes are fine; without them, we’d get bogged down
on less critical legislation. However, on significant spending
bills, it’s time to make us more accountable by asking for roll call
A bill requiring that kind of vote will be introduced in the House and
the Senate by other authors, but I will be one of the first to sign
on. It’s a good idea whose time has come.
The budgeting process is important because how much funding we assign
to each area of state government literally defines almost every
activity and service that goes on in state government.
However, until the bill passes, I’m going to demand a roll call on each
bill that requires a significant expenditure of state funds. As
you can imagine, roll call votes provide instant accountability.
These steps – requiring names on earmarks and roll calls on major
spending bills – are critical steps to bringing some trust back into
Too often, I hear you say that you don’t trust politicians, and who can
blame you? We have set up systems that allow us to hide the truth
from you. If you can’t trust us to handle our duties openly, I
can’t expect you to trust us with the content of potential laws that
directly impact your life.
There’s more – a lot more – we have to do to improve state
government. However, I believe in giving you more information
while holding politicians accountable. I know you demand no less.
As I always say, if you have opinion on these issues or any others, you
can contact me by telephone (803-480-0419), email (email@example.com),
or regular mail (P.O. Box 551, Edgefield, SC 29824). Or just pull
me aside when you see me.
Improving state government translates into better ways to improve the
lives of citizens. It’s time to remove the cloaking tactics from
the politicians and return the gold medal of transparency in state
government to you.
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