Betty Rivard: Who represents us in ‘informal’ budget meetings? (Gazette)

By By Betty Rivard

Thanks, to the Gazette Opinion Page, for your great April 18 editorial about the state budget and taxes.

I am especially dismayed that all of the tax reform plans that I’ve seen, including the governor’s last-minute compromise plan, force me to pay more so that those with more money than I have pay less.

I am already paying 9 percent of my income in taxes, where the wealthiest residents of the state pay only 6.5 percent. How fair and just is that? As I’ve commented before, I am forced to trust them to use their extra $2.50 for each $100 to help the rest of us. Is that really happening?

If I had been polled, I would have joined the 70 percent of respondents who are willing to pay a little more to support essential government services. To me, essential services include not only public education, higher ed, infrastructure and the safety net for those who need it, but also public broadcasting, the arts and the humanities. I believe that these are integral to the fabric of our life as a state and make good business sense as part of cultural tourism and marketing.

My greatest concern now is that more bad self-serving decisions might be made behind closed doors by a few elected officials and the special interests that support them.

In a recent column, Hoppy Kercheval projected a series of informal meetings. This paper has reported that the governor has already started meeting with the legislative leadership.

Who is representing the 80 percent of us who keep being asked to pay more than our fair share? I know no one is interested in paying legislators to come in for another extended special session, but at least the legislative process has some elements of transparency built into it.

How will we know about and be able to analyze and speak out on any new developments in the budget and tax process if this is all informal? Will your reporters be in every room and be able to convey all of this to us? Will there be public hearings where citizens may respond?

I urge the governor and the legislative leadership to conduct an open and transparent process in these budget and tax negotiations. Include divergent views, representing citizens like me, at the tables. Stream the meetings. Share the documents and reports freely. Allow time for feedback and back-and-forth discussion.

All of these measures can contribute to the best possible product on behalf of the citizens of our state. We are facing difficult decisions in perilous times. Only the best thinking of all of the parties affected — which means, all of us — can get us to where we need to be.

Betty Rivard, of Charleston, is a volunteer citizen advocate.

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