Alaska has become the latest in a string of states to boost government spending transparency by posting information online.
Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has announced the state has put its check register online. The department of administration’s Web site now hosts datasheets in PDF and Excel formats that allow taxpayers to view details of every expenditure greater than $1,000, organized by department, payee, and type of expense.
Noting the site is a work in progress, Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer told the Daily Newsminer, “It’s not perfect … but we wanted to get something out there to get started.”
State Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), who is sponsoring additional government transparency legislation this year, said he will continue to codify spending transparency so that a comprehensive Web site for government expenditures extends beyond Palin’s term in office.
“My constituents and colleagues–Republicans and Democrats alike–love this bill,” Wielechowski said. “Nobody wants government waste, and this allows a more transparent government.”
The idea is spreading across the country. As one of his first actions upon assuming office in January, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) issued an executive order requiring the commissioner of administration to create an online state spending database.
Writing in Human Events, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich commended Jindal for his swift action.
“For a Louisiana governor, this was an enormous step toward reform,” Gingrich wrote.
The effort to empower taxpayers to track their tax dollars with the click of a computer mouse kicked off in the fall of 2006 with passage of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. In December 2007 the federal government launched its own transparency Web site as a result of the Act.
The effort is growing into a nationwide movement as states and local governments start their own spending transparency Web sites.
“This concept of empowering taxpayers is such a powerful one. A handful of successes in 2007 have set off the spark, and now this movement is spreading like wildfire,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “There is no doubt that taxpayers truly love the idea of tracking where their taxes end up.”
A poll commissioned by Maryland Del. Warren Miller (R-Annapolis), who is sponsoring spending transparency legislation in the state, found more than 80 percent of Marylanders support the creation of a searchable Web site for government expenditures.
Ohio state Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Mount Lookout), who is sponsoring transparency legislation in his state, said, “I’ve yet to hear a discouraging word from another member [of the legislature], and the enthusiasm of the media due to their desire for open records has been overwhelming.”
Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs, who has created an online portal for her state’s expenditures, explained what makes the movement so appealing.
“Taxpayers not only expect this level of transparency and openness, but they deserve it for many reasons,” Combs said. “First and foremost, it’s their money. We’re giving Texans easy access to information useful in deciding whether tax dollars are being spent in a responsible manner.”
Combs added, “In the process we’re getting taxpayers involved in state government and holding agencies more accountable to the public. In addition, state agencies can use this information to drive efficiency and change.”
Using data from the spending portal, the comptroller’s office has already identified and implemented $2.3 million in savings, including $73,000 from consolidating various contracts for ink toner into one contract and $250,000 by not printing a duplicate study that was already being done by another agency.
The bipartisanship that marked this issue last year continues in 2008. In early February, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox (R) held a news conference with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a former candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination, to announce quarterly expenditures for his office are now online. Cox also called on Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to post all government expenditures, including grants and contracts, on a single searchable Web site.
Nader said, “I applaud AG Cox for taking this important first step of making government operations more transparent. I hope the governor follows his example and makes the full text of all Michigan state contracts available to the public via the Internet.”
Cox expressed his full support for legislation sponsored by State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk (R-Kalamazoo) that would do just that.
Even at the local level, the transparency movement continues to gain momentum, with Milwaukee County becoming the first in Wisconsin to make its expenditures available online. The grassroots organization CRG Network, which partnered with the county to build the Web site, is looking to accomplish such fiscal transparency for all of Wisconsin.
Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is state government affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform.
For more information …
For a comprehensive memo on efforts to increase transparency in government spending, go to http://www.atr.org.
Federal government’s transparency Web site: http://www.USAspending.gov