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Parties Clash Over Budget Transparency


The budget is the big picture bill. It dictates where the state’s money will go. Trailer bills are attached to the budget and spell out how the money will be allocated. Typically trailer bills are published a few days before the budget vote. This year the earliest of at least 15 came out Wednesday morning.

That angers Republicans who say they weren’t involved in the budget process and now they haven’t had enough time to study the trailer bills. Senator Jim Nielsen says it’s disrespectful.

“There were times and traditions where both parties respected the integrity of the institution and the institution’s processes,” Nielsen says. “And one of those things was that you knew what you were voting on.”

But Democratic Senator Mark Leno says fears that his party is trying to slip something by the Republicans are unfounded. He says those same arguments are made every year.

“And rather than bring up some evidence of something nefarious that happened last year or the year before, there’s just more suspicion about this current year,” Leno says.

Still, outside groups have called for more transparency in the process. Phillip Ung is with Common Cause, which advocates for transparency in government. He says publishing the trailer bills so late undermines the public’s trust in government.

“The default message that voters get is that something might be snuck under their nose, especially when you’re talking about over 1,600 pages of legislation in 48 hours,” he says. “A couple of lines of legislation can change policy quite a bit.”

In 2010 Republican Senator Bob Huff proposed a State Constitutional Amendment that would have required bills to be in print for 72 hours before any action. The amendment died in committee.

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