Wednesday, March 12, 2014
The back-and-forth accusations over Monday's Democrat-led budget committee vote over a plan to forestall $40 million in revenue sharing raged unabated Tuesday.
Both sides claimed the other is lying. Both sides say the whole affair has tainted the budget process and the sanctity of the negotiations. Both sides . . .
The difficulty getting to the bottom of this dispute is that all of the discussions about whether Democrats on the committee told Republicans that they were voting Monday occurred behind closed doors during what's known as a "chairs and leads" meeting. The chairs and leads meetings take place between the co-chairs of the committee and lead committee members of the minority party.
They talk about votes. They negotiate. They do all of this out of the public view.
The meetings are technically open to the public and the press, but there's no real public notice, so the only way to really know what's happening in the backrooms of the Appropriations Committee is to camp out back there (This could be a very long and unfruitful assignment).
Additionally, many of the meetings that occur behind the door labeled “Legislators and staff only” are supposedly closed to the public; the meetings are called caucus meetings (More on how lawmakers use caucus meeting to circumvent the state's open meeting law here.). In other words, there are meetings open to the public that occur behind closed doors; there are also meetings closed to the public that occur behind the same closed doors. Lawmakers move in and out of these meetings regularly and the public doesn't get to watch.
Overall, much of the budget-writing process is done in secret. The dust-up over the $40 million revenue sharing bill is a perfect example of what happens when there's a disagreement over what was said in secret.
Scott Thistle, politics editor of the Sun Journal, said all of the above in less than 140 characters on Tuesday:Tweet
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.