State Treasurer Dale Folwell (Photo: Screen grab from media availability)
State Treasurer Dale Folwell said efforts by the Republican-controlled General Assembly to restrict access to important public records reduces confidence in all levels of government.
Folwell, a Republican who is running for governor in 2024, addressed the controversial budget provision Tuesday in an open conversation with members of the media.
Last month, when legislative leaders rolled out the state’s $30 billion budget, they inserted language in the 625-page document giving lawmakers the power and discretion to decide whether work documents should be shared publicly, or could be sold or destroyed.
Here’s the language on page 531 of the budget bill:
Having served eight years in the state legislature prior to becoming treasurer, Folwell said that’s problematic.
“By allowing individual lawmakers to determine what records are public and what material can be destroyed without ever seeing the sunshine of public view creates a system that does not have standards or accountability,” said Folwell. “It prevents the public from learning who and what influence certain decision-making on their behalf.”
A year ago, the North Carolina Open Government Coalition awarded a ‘Sunshine Award’ to Folwell and the Treasurer’s office for efforts to improve transparency and fulfill public records requests.
Folwell is hopeful the matter gets a second look.
“I think that as members of the General Assembly actually look at how this jumped up on the table, and for what problem is it actually trying to solve, there’s always an opportunity, and really [at the] snap of a finger for them to undo this,” said Folwell.
Brooks Fuller, director of the Open Government Coalition, called the legislative maneuver a devastating blow to public access. “Shielding legislative documents from public view does not itself cause corruption, but it creates a perfect environment for it to incubate,” wrote Fuller in a recent op-ed.
But will legislative leaders reverse course in the waning days of the 2023 session?
“That obviously will be their decision,” answered Folwell.
Lt. Governor Mark Robinson and former Congressman Mark Walker, who are also seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, have yet to weigh-in on the prospect of legislators having discretion to determine if their public records will be retained, disposed of, loaned or sold.
Robinson may get a chance to respond as early as Thursday.
With Gov. Roy Cooper on an economic development trip to Japan, Robinson announced Wednesday that he would hold “a special event and press availability as the acting governor of North Carolina.”
That event is slated for 10 a.m. in the auditorium of the legislative building.
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