OPEN GOVERNMENT -- A Sacramento budget accord could be reached soon, but the San Jose Mercury News reports that the four
legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
—the "Big 5"—have
kept all significant details under wraps as they try to hammer out a
solution to the state's $40 billion cash shortfall.

The secretive
negotiations have enraged interest groups, who complain that lawmakers
are making decisions in a vacuum and without the kind of public input
important to a democracy. No public hearings have been held on the
budget, and rumors abound that the leaders are horse-trading over
nonbudget-related issues such as worker rights and environmental
standards.

"It's turning into a fundamental contortion of the
democratic process," said Barry Broad, legislative representative for
the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council. "They just don't want
to subject (the budget process) to scrutiny. That's the point of
stifling debate — it makes it harder for us to know what's going on" —
and to respond.

Keeping interest groups out of the picture, however, is key to allowing lawmakers make what will be painful budget decisions, some political observers said.

"I'm
convinced that the vote will happen late at night, where members will
hold their noses and run for the hills before anyone can find out,"
said Tony Quinn, a former Republican legislative staffer and co-editor
of the California Target Book, which analyzes legislative races.
"They're not going to let this thing hang out there for long. Once they
get a deal put together, they'll move very, very fast. It's the only
way this kind of thing works. It's the only way to avoid the pressure.
Otherwise, everything starts to break down."