Keep the ax visible!

By Chuck Kajer

During a time of tight money, it's more important than ever for local levels of government to keep citizens advised on what is being done to balance the budgets for cities, counties and school districts. Residents want to know what is on the chopping block and make sure local officials are held accountable for whatever decisions they make.

But the League of Minnesota Cities seems to think its member cities should be able to make these decisions without public oversight. They are supporting a bill that would allow cities to keep budget proposals from public view until they are formally proposed to a city council. A bill making this possible was introduced last week by State Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul).

Under the current law, proposals from department directors are considered public information.

Proponents of the bill cite the large amounts of cuts that will need to be made by cities across the state as Local Government Aid from the state is slashed due to the state's budget crisis. They say the cities would better be able to make these proposals without having to deal with political pressure from various groups.

If a city wants to reduce spending on its roads, libraries or police, it is vital that this information be available for full study and debate. When local governments are wielding a big ax and targeting various programs, its residents deserve to know where that ax is going to land. Keeping this information secret does little to make government more efficient. It does, however, insulate officials from criticism and makes it tougher for the public to organize support for projects that may be facing cuts.

In short, this is a bad idea.

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