Study: Corruption Risk Huge for State Government
Is state government open to citizens? Are needed anti-corruption measures in place and working? Is state government accountable to the people?
These are questions asked by authors of the State Integrity Investigation. This is a first-of-its-kind study of state government. The group recently released its assessment of all fifty states.
Each state was measured in 14 categories and given a final grade. No state earned a grade of“A” and only 5 states received a “B”.
Wisconsin received a grade of “C-” which ranks us four points below Illinois.
Our state ranked below other states in pension fund oversight, redistricting and internal auditing. The work of the Government Accountability Board (GAB) helped keep the state from a failing grade. The GAB discloses lobbying activities and oversees campaign financing, ethics and elections.
Wisconsin’s process of legislative redistricting – or the redrawing of the lines of legislative districts – received the study’s lowest grade of “F”.
The study highlighted Republican lawmakers’ action of signing pledges not to share information about the new lines with the public. Study authors also mentioned Republican leaders told their members to ignore public input regarding the maps.
I, and many of my colleagues, have long argued new maps should be drawn by nonpartisan entity. I favor using the Legislative Council; the nonpartisan attorneys staffing the Legislature. These professionals already work with local leaders to draw compact and competitive districts at the local level.Coordinating the work of local government with state legislative lines makes sense.
Legislative leaders called for a vote to pass the new maps last summer only five days after maps were first made public. Legislative leaders held a single public hearing on the redrawn legislative districts and failed to gain input from local officials – completely changing the process Wisconsin followed in the past.
Speed and secrecy are reoccurring themes in state government. When the public, and even their elected officials, have little input the majority party leaders hold nearly absolute power. This has been true under the reign of Republican and Democratic leaders alike.
Wisconsin also received low grades in the management of the state’s civil service system and public access to information. New laws make many state positions political appointments. This change shirks the long-standing tradition of employing and promoting qualified professionals rather than political friends.
The lack of transparency circumvents the very process of democracy. Legislation is like fish. We must open the package, set it on the table and let the sun shine on it. Only then can we see if it stinks.
Legislative decisions are, by design, slow and deliberative. People in all walks of life must be involved in the process. Only through truly open and transparent government can we arrive at solutions that work in the real world.
The same holds true for the administration of state government. For example, Wisconsin has been plagued with problems related to the management of contracts.
A recent audit of the state’s Medicaid system found $2 billion of the $7 billion program could not be assigned to the proper health program – be it Badger Care, Family Care or other programs. Part of the problem is the out-sourcing of 40% of the administration of our public health programs.
Contractors are doing more of the work of state government. But state oversight of contracts continues to deteriorate. The recent Medicaid audit found amendments were added to contracts that were not budgeted for, had never received legislative approval, were not competitively bid and the existence of which was never reported to the agency’s offices of procurement, budgeting and accounting.
State audits found problems in the oversight of state government. Information is often missing, incomplete or incomprehensible. As a result, legislative and executive decisions are often made ‘in the dark’ with little regard to the actual effectiveness of a program or even without adequate fiscal information on the cost of program expansions.
Transparency and accountability are essential to our democracy. We must all ensure public business is open to public scrutiny. Sen.Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said it well; “The best government is an open government in which the American people are able to see what policy makers are doing and have the opportunity to participate in their decision making.”