OPINION: Senate Bill Promotes Government Secrecy
Government officials are trying to make sure they can operate in secrecy. That is the entire point of Senate Bill 55, which passed the state senate 20-12 last week Tuesday.
The bill is designed to put newspapers out of business. If it passes assembly, it will eliminate the publication of meeting proceedings. The pitch is that the bill will save taxpayers money, the truth is most taxpayers won’t notice the difference financially, but will when their local governments begin running unchecked. Think about all of the high-priced projects that have been done in Trempealeau County, now imagine if the government bodies were able pitch them to you without needing to tell the truth.
The voting was done mostly along party lines, 10 of the 12 who opposed it were Democrats and 18 of the 20 who supported it were Republicans. If that holds true at the assembly level, the bill will be defeated and government bodies will be allowed to operate in almost complete secrecy.
The very small, mostly unnoticeable price you pay goes a long way toward transparency. Consider that the Trempealeau County Board of Supervisors budgeted a mere $3,000 for legal notices this year — roughly 10 cents per county resident. They’re currently saying even a $43.5 million project won’t cost us more, how much could $3K matter? Most other governments don’t even list it as a line item on their budget. Removing the need to publish notices simply won’t make change your bank account or how government operates.
Local government officials should be held accountable for what they do and the public should not be expected to seek out information on a government website — information that can easily be edited after the fact.
For more than a century, newspapers in Trempealeau County have been vital, delivering the news you need and keeping governments honest. Should SB 55 pass, that task will become more difficult and, at times, impossible.
While the price isn’t significant for individual taxpayers, the revenue and readership generated by publishing the legal notices is significant for newspapers. Make no mistake, if this bill passes newspapers will close. For those that don’t close, there will no longer be reporters at every meeting and, without the need to publish minutes, you will have no idea what is happening or why your taxes are skyrocketing — and that is exactly what will happen to many of you.
The public notice process exists to provide independent third party oversight of government. Government should never be permitted to report on itself. If that were the case, news would be nothing but fake.
The other argument that has been used to support SB 55 is that only newspaper subscribers have access to the notices. That is a lie — again, we can’t trust government to report on itself. All public notices are available on Wisconsinpublicnotices.org. The website is funded by newspapers and provided at no cost to the government or taxpayers. The cost to publish legal notices in the newspapers is a set price and is greatly reduced from our general advertising rates.
Newspapers are the only form of notification that provides the necessary verification, certification and archiving that ensures that taxpayers’ rites are protected and preserved.
So I ask you, the reader, to reach contact your assembly person today. Locally, that is Treig Pronschinske. Call him at 608-266-7015 or e-mail him at Rep.Pronschinske@legis.wisconsin.gov. If Pronschinske and the rest of the state assembly actually care about small businesses and your right to know how your tax dollars are being spent, they will oppose this bill.