Every year, Tennessee lawmakers promise to be more transparent in the budget process. While leaders of the state General Assembly pledge to conduct their end-of-the-session fiscal negotiations in the open, they never live up to their word. This year, just as they have in the past, state budget makers have played hide and seek with members of the news media.
The Associated Press reported last week that legislative leaders met at a restaurant in Nashville on April 22 to discuss amendments to the state budget. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he and his colleagues met several hours to deliberate.
“There have been secret meetings, I’m not going to deny,” McCormick said. “There’s been a lot of secrecy for 200 years. I don’t think it’s any worse than it’s always been.”
For any other public governing body in the state, this admission would be a clear violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. Unfortunately, the General Assembly is exempt from the open meetings act.
While the General Assembly conducts most of its business in the open, budget leaders from the House and Senate often meet privately at the end of a legislative session to hammer out deals on the new state budget. This is a practice that must end. These secret meetings are partly responsible for the lack of confidence many Tennesseans now have in their state government.
To restore public trust in the legislative process on Capitol Hill, lawmakers must let the sun shine in on all their deliberations, even those end-of-the-session budget deals.