[Cross-posted from RealClout.org, where I sometimes channel Hecate to answer common questions from bewildered community activists…]
I’m a “citizen” lobbyist, part of a statewide organization, and we have been lobbying for almost a year now for one pretty controversial budget item. We are very worried about the delayed budget negotiations going on in Conference Committee (we like the Senate version better) AND we are worried that the governor may try to further amend it.
Why is it taking soooo long? And why don’t they tell us what’s going on? The suspense is awful.
Can’t stand it much longer…
Dear Can’t Stand It, Attention!!!
Check out the website — should be up soon http://www.malegislature.gov/Budget, call you champions and find out what’s in it for you and get ready to write thank you notes, or express dismay and ask the Governor to fix it in his veto/amendment message.
To: HOU-DL – HOUSE REPS; HOU-DL – HOUSE STAFF; HOU-DL – HOUSE AIDES; LEG-DL – ALLStaff
Subject: FORMAL SESSION TOMORROW
To the Honorable Members, Staff and Aides of the House of Representatives:
Pending a report of the Committee of Conference on the Fiscal Year 2012 General Appropriations Act, the House will meet in FULL FORMAL SESSION TOMORROW, Friday, July 1st with roll calls beginning at 11:00 AM. The Full Formal Session will be preceded by a JOINT CAUCUS in Room A-1 commencing at 10:00 AM.
Dial down kiddo—it make take a few more days, it may take a month or two, but let’s hope it doesn’t take as long as it did in 1999 when the two famous Toms – Senate President Tom Birmingham and Speaker Tom Finneran went pencil to pencil on the balcony of the state House ’til the fall. See this shot which could only be taken from a fourth floor office on the Senate side, or a helicopter.
Was this about transparency you might ask – negotiating the budget in the light of day? No, it was about Tom Birmingham needing to have a cigarette now and then. Then as now, there were a lot of complaints about powerful leaders making decisions behind closed doors, or in this case, out of earshot.
Michael Jonas’ 2002 Commonwealth Magazine analysis of those two strong leaders was entitled Beacon ILL. Pretty bad pun, I think…
Nowhere has this been more evident than in the annual state budget debate, which has turned into a recurrent–and deeply personal–confrontation between the two legislative chieftains and their respective public philosophies. This clash played itself out on a level of public spectacle in 1999, when the two leaders spent summer and fall on the balcony outside Birmingham’s State House office, personally hashing out a $21 billion state spending plan, which they delivered five months late…
…budget talks again dragged on for months beyond the July start of the new fiscal year, with a spending plan dropped on lawmakers the day before Thanksgiving, giving them only hours to digest the 500-page document before casting an up-or-down vote. Finally, after agreeing last summer to more than $1 billion in tax increases and tax-cut reversals, Finneran’s House and Birmingham’s Senate could not settle on a common spending blueprint, leaving it to Gov. Swift–a lame-duck acting governor whose vetoes the Legislature could have overridden at will–to make the final $300 million in cuts.
Now what does this tell you?
It tells you everything changes and everything stays the same. Two strong Leaders, one Governor jockeying for power, lots of improvements in ethics reform and transparency, and STILL the conference committee does its business in private. And I’ve got news for you. The Governor will make his veto/amendment decision in private, with all of his staff warned not to leak any news to anybody.
All I can tell you to do is do whatever you can to make sure your issue is being protected by your champions on the conference committee and to make sure they are not giving it up as a bargaining chip for something the other branch wants.
Pray. Meditate. Project positive thoughts. Buy a Mojo charm. Cross your fingers and toes. Hang around outside the Ways and Means Office and hand out plaintive letters from affected constituents.
It’s all been tried, and sometimes it all works. Good luck.