By Bob Bonnar
Newcastle News Letter Journal
President, Wyoming Press Association
This provision was written behind closed doors, without a hearing, debate, or any input from the public, the State of Wyoming or its elected representatives. —Senator John Barrasso
This is what happens when legislating is done by a few in the middle of the night. —Barrasso, Senator Mike Enzi, Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis
This is a big win for Montana jobs because highways are our lifeblood. I worked hard to make sure Montana had a seat at the table and I’m proud that we were able to get the job done for Montana families. —Senator Max Baucus
And for months, I’ve been calling on Congress to take half the money we’re no longer spending on war and use it to do some nation-building here at home. —President Barack Obama
It’s hard to believe that all of these people are talking about the same thing, but they are. The quotes are all in reference to the Transportation and Student Loan Interest Rate Bill signed by President Obama on July 6.
Although the bill did allocate funds that will provide for highway construction and lower interest rates on student loans, the dollars didn’t all come from money that was being spent on wars in the Middle East. A staggering $700 million was taken from the Abandoned Mine Land trust fund to pick up the tab for the wonderful things lauded by the bill’s crafters, most notably Baucus, the Montana Senator who “is chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee responsible for writing much of the Highway Bill and chairman of the Finance Committee that came up with responsible ways to pay for the investment in highway jobs without adding to the deficit,” according to his own website.
The majority of the $700 million in funds raided from the AML were supposed to be sent to Wyoming over the next ten years, but that’s not the only reason this state’s congressional delegation is fuming. Barrasso, Enzi and Lummis have also expressed distaste in the way the legislation was crafted because the bipartisan negotiations led by Baucus on the Highway Bill Conference Committee took place beyond the view of the public and anybody not invited to participate in the deliberations.
Baucus and the other members of that committee used a ‘deliberative process privilege’ to hold those negotiations in a vacuum. Ironically, organizations to which Enzi, Barrasso and Lummis all belonged before their ascension to the United States Congress tried unsuccessfully this year to create a deliberative process exemption to Wyoming’s open government laws. It would have allowed local governments in this state to gather information and opinions during the ‘pre-decisional’ phase of discussions on issues without allowing the public to view that information or those opinions prior to the issue going before an elected body for a vote. No wonder Baucus “worked hard to make sure Montana had a seat at the table.”
But just a few months ago, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities (to which Enzi once belonged as Gillette’s mayor) worked very hard to make sure Wyoming citizens could be kept away from the table during the deliberative phase of the decision-making process, and the Wyoming State Senate (to which Barrasso and Lummis belonged before rising to the United States Senate) approved the measure in two votes before finally voting against it on third and final reading.
We’re proud to say that Newcastle Mayor Greg James let WAM know that he opposed such a measure, and Senator Ogden Driskill spoke and voted against the deliberative process exemption on the floor of the Wyoming Senate, but WAM representatives continue to lobby for the right of elected officials to hold such deliberations in secret, and there are powerful members of the Wyoming State Legislature who stand ready to offer and approve legislation that would allow local officials to govern in this manner.
The people of Wyoming are paying a stiff price ($700 million to be exact) for the abuses made possible by the existence of a deliberative process privilege for federal government officials, and we must make it clear to state and local officials that we refuse to allow such a privilege to exist for city and county officials in this state.