OPEN GOVERNMENT -- Kevin Yamamura, writing in the Sacramento Bee, notes that "five Californians are trying to solve the state's budget crisis, in part by keeping the other 38 million residents in the dark."
They fear special interests will mobilize on every proposal they hear about, ramp up pressure on lawmakers and prevent any possibility of reaching a deal that could secure enough votes.
"Whether it's education or labor or any of the other groups, when we get wind of something that has significant jeopardy for us, we fight against it," said Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for hundreds of California school districts. "It's a (lobbying) system set up to defeat the latest idea that's been hatched, which makes it that much harder to get a solution."
Leaders have yet to announce they have solved the state's $40 billion deficit, despite earlier pledges to reach agreement by Feb. 1. Meanwhile, state Controller John Chiang has stopped paying some bills, and Standard & Poor's downgraded California's general obligation bond rating Tuesday from A+ to A, the lowest in the nation.
When they do reach a deal, legislative leaders intend to hide it as long as they can until a floor vote, for fear that lobbyists may undermine the agreement by persuading key legislators to vote against it.
The increased secrecy behind this year's "Big Five" leadership negotiations has made interest groups nervous and has alarmed open-government proponents.
"The thought that to be able to solve this you have to ram it down members' throats just to lock something up before a constituency finds it outrageous is evidence of how bad the process has gotten," said Terry Francke of Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group.