If Ohio Senate President Richard Finan, R-Cincinnati, truly believes that Republican Gov. Bob Taft's veto of a secret-government provision in the state's two-year budget will have "serious long-term consequences for the legislature," he should be willing to articulate them in a public forum.
Finan, who has taken exception to the governor's veto and is talking about an override attempt, refused to elaborate on his warning, according to published reports. That's unacceptable. If one of the most powerful political leaders in state government has an argument to make, he should do so openly and in detail.
The provision that is causing of so much consternation within the ranks of the Republican Party was inserted in the biennium budget by Republican legislators after a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court that, in effect, told the General Assembly to let the sunshine in.
The provision would have restricted what the public could see and hear about communications among legislative staff and members of the General Assembly. The initiative was prompted by the court's ruling that required the legislature to turn over documents and allow interviews of state officials as requested by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. The coalition had asked for the information in subpoenas it served on employees of the Ohio Department of Education and the Legislative Budget Office in connection with the school funding case.
Closed-door discussions: To put it bluntly, Finan and other GOP leaders didn't think it was anybody's business what took place behind closed doors. The meetings resulted in the funding plan for primary and secondary education contained in the 2002-03 budget.
Taft signed the $45 billion budget, but he also vetoed 49 provisions.
The Supreme Court has set a June 15 deadline for the legislature to submit a school funding proposal that would pass constitutional muster. The coalition for equity has argued that the current method of financing public education, with its dependence on property taxes, is unconstitutional.
In opposing the Republicans' secret-government initiative, we, like other news organizations around the state, argued that Ohio's open meetings and public records laws are clear as to what government can and cannot do. We are hard-pressed to understand how anyone could even consider pulling the veil of secrecy over the deliberations that took place on the school funding issue.
We strongly agree with the statement Gov. Taft made in deleting the secret-government provision from the budget: "I felt that I just couldn't support what was being done in terms of it being overbroad and changing the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches. Something major like that should be done during public hearings."
Closed files: The legislative initiative was especially disturbing to us because two years ago, Finan pushed through a provision that resulted in the Legislative Services Commission's files being closed to the press and public. Taft refused to use his veto that time, saying he did not want to interfere with the business of the legislature. What he did was embolden the legislature.
We're heartened that the governor used his veto pen this time.
Republican legislators should forget about overriding the veto and focus on how the legislative process can become more open. It is, after all, the people's business that they're conducting.