Why did lawmakers deny TVW’s budget request for more transparency?

By JASON MERCIER  | 
May 16, 2019
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This blog ran as an op-ed in The Kitsap Sun on May 17, 2019


When it comes to embracing transparency, the 2019 Session had one shining moment (remote testimony) followed by a series of mind-boggling secrecy face plants (Title Only bills/rushed public process). Adding to the insult, despite a massive $8 billion increase in spending, the legislature rejected TVW’s small budget request to increase transparency of state government.

For the 2019-21 budget, TVW was requesting an increase of $750,000 to provide cameras and hundreds of hours of coverage of 3 meeting rooms. Agencies holding meetings in those rooms included (some meetings are multi-day):

  • The Board of Natural Resources (11 meetings per year)
     
  • The Fish & Wildlife Commission (6 meetings per year)
     
  • The Salmon Recovery Funding Board (6 meetings per year)
     
  • The Recreation & Conservation Funding Board (5 meetings per year)
     
  • The Forest Practices Board (4 meetings per year)
     
  • The Invasive Species Council (3 meetings per year)
     
  • The Board for Geographic Names (2 meetings per year)
     
  • Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (1-2 meeting per month)
     
  • Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) (monthly meetings)
     
  • Washington State Transportation Commission (6 meetings per year)

TVW’s $750,000 budget request was included in the Governor’s 2019-21 budget proposal as well as the original House version but not the Senate’s. For some unknown reason, when the budget deal white smoke finally rose from Olympia in the final days of session it was omitted from the final budget adopted.

Instead of funding TVW’s $750,000 transparency request, the budget provides $750,000 for a state study on whether to tear down the Snake River dams (something the state doesn’t have authority to do). If budgets are about priorities, this must mean wasting $750,000 on a dam breaching study was a higher priority for lawmakers than providing the same amount of funding to TVW to increase government transparency.

For those of us who don’t live within easy driving distance of Olympia (or don't want to be in the capitol at 2 a.m. during floor action), TVW is the lifeblood of our ability to monitor our elected officials and state government. According to its website:

“TVW was founded in 1993 and went on air in 1995 offering unedited coverage of Washington state government, politics and public policy. TVW was started and continues to operate on several founding principles:

  • Open government: Government belongs to the people of Washington, who deserve complete access to the workings of their state government.
     
  • In-depth, nonpartisan coverage: Both with its unedited ‘gavel-to-gavel’ coverage and its news reporting TVW seeks to go beyond the soundbites; tell stories in elected officials’ own voices; stay meticulously nonpartisan; and let viewers make their own decisions about the issues.
     
  • Civics education: We work to educate Washingtonians of all ages about their state government, and invite them to engage and participate.”

It is disappointing to see TVW’s small budget transparency request ignored. Those wishing to express support for TVW and provide testimonials on the need for even more coverage of state government can send comments to TVW President Renee Radcliff Sinclair at renee@tvw.org.