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Making state government open for you

By: SC Sen. Shane Massey
web 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 Columbia.

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 votes.

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 state government.

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.

Contact Me
As I always say, if you have opinion on these issues or any others, you can contact me by telephone (803-480-0419), email (shanemassey@scsenate.org), 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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