Senate President Jeff Atwater, responding in part to a critical grand jury report that blasted how state legislators craft the annual state budget, said on Wednesday that within the next two weeks he will institute additional changes to the budget process for the 2010 session to make it more “transparent.”
While the changes have not been finalized, Atwater said they could include creating timelines for when information will be made public and putting in guidelines for discussions between the Senate President and the House Speaker. “You are going to see things exposed a little longer,’’ said Atwater.
Atwater added that he also may be willing to open up meetings where legislative leaders reach an agreement on allocations, or the actual amounts of money set aside for each area of the budget. These changes, however, would only apply to the Senate this year and would need to be formally added to the Senate rules in order to become permanent.
Last year a Leon County grand jury indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom for steering money to a project that was sought by a Panhandle developer and political supporter. The grand jury in its report also criticized the secretive nature of how legislators have shaped the annual spending plan. That prompted lawmakers in 2009 to hand out and then discuss the lengthy provisions that appear both in the actual budget itself and in the so-called conforming bills that accompany the budget.
Atwater conceded that the grand jury report has prompted the changes.
"I think their feedback was valuable to us to say, 'This is the people's budget,' why shouldn't we go an extra mile to make sure they see it,'' said Atwater.