Why Everyone Should Care About Government Transparency
By Kathleen Stone
Government transparency in the state of Texas is the big issue that no one is talking about. Or that’s how it seems to me, the public relations student who joined the FOI Foundation of Texas as the digital marketing intern roughly two months ago. I came aboard to revamp the Texas Sunshine Coalition website and lay out a new social media plan. Beyond a few journalism classes and a media law class, I really didn’t know that much about the issues surrounding government transparency. After spending some time studying the cases I’ve realized the importance of this issue.
What are Sunshine Laws?
A few months ago, I had never even heard of sunshine laws. Through this internship I have learned that sunshine laws protect the taxpayer’s right to know what their representatives are doing. Texas used to have some of the best sunshine laws in the country, and several other states modeled their sunshine laws after ours.
However, in recent years, a few specific cases and loopholes have set a precedent for limited transparency when it comes to issues such as information about how taxes are being spent, access to dates of birth and public access to government emails conducted on personal devices. As our sunshine laws become more and more limited, we the taxpayers get less access to (what should be) public information. We are increasingly operating in the dark.
A Transparent Government is Good for Business
If you’re thinking that an open government might scare companies away from doing business in Texas, think again. A key ruling in Boeing Co. vs. Paxton made it legal for government entities and companies to keep bidding information private. This ruling made it okay for the city of McAllen to withhold how much taxpayer money they spent on an Enrique Iglesias performance; it allowed the city of Houston to issue an undisclosed number of drivers permits to Uber; and more.
This may sound like a good thing to businesses, but studies have found that firms may be reluctant to bid if they are unclear of a market’s demand. Studies have also found that projects might have excess costs of 25 to 50 percent higher than they would in a transparent government. Plus, involving stakeholders builds public trust for the company and the government. Click here to read more examples of how a transparent government can be good for business.
The People’s Issue
Most everyone in the United States has become numb to the raw tension that exists between liberals and conservatives. That’s why it felt so bizarre to me when I logged on to the Texas Sunshine Coalition Twitter account for the first time. I scrolled through the timeline to get a feel for the pre-established audience, and I saw hashtags from different political views cohabitating on the same screen. That’s when it dawned on me how truly bipartisan an issue this is. Both liberals and conservatives care pretty equally about knowing where their taxes are going, or what our representatives are hiding – as they should. The purpose of the Texas Sunshine Coalition is to educate the citizens of Texas about our right to government transparency. These issues will become even more important as we enter the 86thregular legislative session, beginning January 8, 2019.
These are divisive times, but government transparency is an issue all Texans can, and should, get behind. Go to https://txsunshine.org to learn more about sunshine laws, key cases, and to get access to resources.