By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
“Government accountability means that public officials — elected and un-elected — have an obligation to explain their decisions and actions to the citizens.” – US State Department
Accountability is necessary to prevent corruption and in the absence corruption results. Arizona has seen a number of measures to benefit public awareness vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in 2013. Does this serve the citizens of Arizona?
Big banks were sued over foreclosure abuses, with a settlement which designated 100 million dollars to Arizona homeowners to reduce principal and modify mortgages. The State of Arizona diverted these funds, taking half in 2012 to build more private prisons which are to be run by for-profit businesses. The last of the funds were taken away from homeowners on April 17th, 2013 when Arizona HB 2154 was signed by Governor Brewer. Little public notice was given of the bill which was introduced to deal with tenant rights in a condo or mobile park but changed via a strike-all amendment removing all text and turning it into a bill affecting homeowners. While we know a court ordered the money to go to homeowners in Arizona which is now #1 in foreclosures nationwide, we probably won’t ever know what exactly the money was diverted to do as many feel department budgets are kept away from clear public view.
A 2013 bill would have required such a disclosure in the bottom corner of every state department and agency website. As passed by the legislature HB2591 would have required the “State government shall post the previous year’s actual state budget total on the bottom right-hand corner of its website’s home page. The budget information shall be updated within ninety days after the end of the fiscal year. The budget total shall specify the amount of monies that come from the general fund, other appropriated funds and federal funds.” The measure achieved support from both parties but was vetoed by the Governor who pointed out that such information was already available. While not as prominently displayed, she is correct that citizens can find out much of the state’s day to day expenses online although the current available information does not specify when money comes from general funds or funds diverted from helping homeowners or other projects like education.
Another 2013 bill, Senate Bill 1371, passed by the legislature stated the need for information on the ballot about new taxes. “The legislature finds and determines that for the purposes of increasing voter knowledge and government transparency it is a matter of statewide concern that all municipalities fully inform voters of the effects of any vote to approve a bond, sales tax or property tax measure.” The bill was vetoed by Governor Brewer, who feels additional information should be included in pamphlets about the bill not on the ballot itself. Supporters felt this information belonged on the ballot to make sure voters understood the costs they were committing to, easily accessible as they vote.
House Bill 2578 passed by the legislature would have prohibited government officials from using criteria other than what is specified in the law to make licensing decisions. Many applicants have felt such decisions involve arbitrary judgments beyond the law itself. The bill would have created a process for applicants to file a complaint that might result in a $500 fine for an employee on their first violation. Finding the bill punitive and unnecessary Governor Brewer vetoed the bill.
Arizona SB1115 would have made medical facilities provide direct payment options to patients for common services including the Veterans, Indian Health Services, the state hospital and care on military bases. In her veto, Governor Brewer stated she supported the price and quality of care transparency to help patients manage their health care needs but opposed including government facilities mentioned above in the bill as they do not serve the general public. The bill was opposed by a number of health groups including Sonora Quest Laboratories and Banner Health stating the problem of one direct pay price when private insurance through an employer negotiates for prices, government programs such as Medicare set a standard price and patients without insurance often negotiate for a discounted price based on income and/or payment deals for conditions like cash payment. The health groups also raised concerns small providers might not be able to compete with big box medical companies if direct prices at each facility reflected overhead.
One last bill to mention is HB2322 which would have limited the ability of agencies to make new rules beyond administrative procedures and increases protections to individuals affected by such. In vetoing the bill, Governor Brewer stated her support for expedited rule-making to protect, what she defines as job creators, overburdened by regulation. The governor further points to the burden of publicly elected officials deciding on changes in an forum open to public attendance as time-consuming, allowing outdated rules to stay in effect while debate goes on. When agencies make the decisions the process is usually behind closed doors and made by her appointees.
So far in 2013 more than half the bills vetoed by Governor Brewer deal with increased government accountability. Does the government of Arizona have an obligation to its citizens to provide transparency to the citizens that elect them? In each case the legislature approved measures they felt were in the interest of citizens. For this year at least, Arizonans will have to carry on without this information.