© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.
“Laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them being made.” Mark Twain
Increasingly the political dialog is about complete and absolute transparency for those elected people making decisions. The notion is that the public should know everything about the legislative process including everything that happens during the deliberation phase.
We are not talking about the outcomes, how people voted, rather, how they reached their decision to vote. Some people think the public should be eyewitness to the deliberations. This sounds good but will not work. H. L. Mencken wrote: For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
Consider if jury deliberations were in public. Jurors would be watched as they deliberated the case. Everyone could see how they reasoned and voted. Would that scrutiny change their actions? You bet.
An example is our Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia from May to September 1787. The delegates decided first that they could not revise adequately the Articles of Confederation which was their announced task so instead they negotiated a new form of government.
They did so without any transparency as they worked. The doors to their hall were locked and members pledged to not talk to journalists. The newspapers of the time had no idea what was happening.
Why did they take such an unusual action? Because the daily pressure as they debated issues would have ultimately killed the convention if the issues under debate were known. As they day by day debated these issues they would have had too much pressure to continue if what they were debating was known to the public.
It looks like a special session of the New Mexico Legislature will be required. And the forces of transparency will want to watch everything from the first Frito-Pie made to the last coffee pot put away… along with everything said and done during the special session.
Transparency of the final actions of our elected is essential but perhaps not the deliberations. As the politicians figure what they can and cannot support they must not have literally thousands of people bombarding them with instant reactions.
Deals cannot be made in front of everyone. That is a truth transparency activists do not accept. Like with jury deliberations and the designing of our Constitution, deliberation scrutiny is detrimental to the outcome.
New Mexico has vastly less money than budgeted. So New Mexico will have to do something about it but this is an election year. Politicians would rather not act but must since our Constitution requires New Mexico financially to be in the black. New Mexico cannot deficient spend, even in election years.
U. S. Senator from Oregon Jeff Merkley wrote, “Budgets are nothing if not statements of priorities.” The priorities are going to be called into account shortly in New Mexico and the political leaders will not be able to punt the financial football to the next session.
They will meet in special session and do things that will lose each of them votes. The New Mexico budget will be cut. There will be winners and losers. The only thing worse is to lose the representative form of government by allowing extreme daily intrusions to the point that the representatives can no longer function.
Fixing this financial problem will be hard since the budget was already cut in many ways in the last session. Some things cannot be cut and so one answer is to raise taxes.
With the increase of taxes being dynamic the raises may not bring in the needed revenue because businesses and people move out of state. The state may go into a financial death spiral of taxpayers leaving and the people needing services not being funded adequately.
There are people who want complete transparency but it is the kiss of death to most complex negotiations. Careful what you wish for as it could make this problem much worse.
Some tough decisions will have to be made. The lobbyists and activists will endeavor to protect their clients through information, advocacy and political threats. Give our elected a fair chance to fix the budget. It is important to watch how they vote for a solution, not their deliberations.