March 19, 2008

Please Mr. Sun

Opponents of open government in South Dakota are a crafty lot.

First, they killed open records legislation introduced last session because it was a threat to “personal privacy.” Never mind that the measure kept intact all existing record exclusions protected by state law.

Now, another effort to put more sunshine on the business of state government has been quashed. Governor Michael Rounds vetoed
HB 1233, which would have established a state web site allowing South Dakotans to track just how the state spends their money. Although the measure had passed the legislature earlier, there weren’t enough votes in the Senate this week to override the veto. This time, opponents claim the cost of more open government may be too high.
At least, that’s the line promoted by the governor, according to Kevin Woster in the Rapid City Journal this week, Rounds vetoed the measures, saying it had technical problems and that it was unclear what information would be designated for release. The governor also said it could cost more than $600,000 to establish and $100,000 a year to operate.

The operative word here is “could.” Alaska has reportedly implemented such a web site at far less than cited by the Rounds people. As usual, there’s little specificity as to what the “technical problems” might be. Like he did with open records, the governor is likely to sit on this issue until it’s forced to a vote. Then he’ll introduce a spewing of general objections without specifics, designed to scare the daylights out of voters who otherwise would opt for sunshine.

Our state representatives and state senators represent you and me, the citizens of South Dakota. Despite the fact that over 80% of these legislators supported this bill, Governor Rounds vetoed it. Hiding behind “costs” and vague “technical problems” is disingenuous. It is becoming increasingly evident that the governor is uncomfortable with truly open government. He could take a lesson from Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (at left), whose Open Checkbook program is the latest in a growing nationwide movement to make information about state spending more readily available.

Alaska, in the “land of the Midnight Sun,” is truly making an effort to put sunshine on state expenditures. We South Dakotans can’t find even a ray of such transparency at high noon in Pierre.

His penchant for doing business in private – beyond the scrutiny of the public – detracts from the good work of Governor Rounds and his administration.

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