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It costs money (at least in the short run) to make governments open and transparent. Even if open government is better for democracy and cost-efficient and cost-effective in the long run, governments may use the short-term cost as an excuse to curtail openness.
OMB Watch reports that, as part of its Budget Act of 2012 (passed in June), California suspended the state’s open meetings law for the next three years in an effort to cut state expenditures. The California open meetings law “requires cities and other agencies to publish the agendas of public meetings before they occur and make the minutes of these meetings available to citizens after they occur.” As OMB Watch says, “In suspending the law, the state is sacrificing not only a fundamental element of a democratic society, but a vital tool that can actually save money.”
- California Suspends Open Meetings Law to Save Money, OMB Watch (August 14, 2012).
The state, facing increasingly tight budgets, suspended the law to save money. Under state rules, California is required to reimburse cities and counties for the cost of complying with mandated requirements, which includes its open meetings requirements. However, California has not reimbursed local governments for open meetings costs since 2005, accumulating a debt estimated at $96 million. By suspending the open meetings provision in the Brown Act, California expects to avoid paying open meetings costs for the next three years, as well as eliminate the current debt owed to local governments.
The OMB Watch article goes on to explain that the “costs” billed to the state may be inflated and not reflect actual costs and that some local government will continue their open meetings policies regardless of the change in requirements.