Citizen Groups Continue Calls for Transparency

Published January 1, 2009

Although the November election results mean taxpayers in some states will see an altered political landscape, the growing interest in government spending transparency is unlikely to change any time soon.

Since passage of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, lawmakers across the political spectrum have joined forces in 12 states to pass similar legislation, creating searchable Web sites for government expenditures. In seven states, governors have taken direct executive action to create such Web sites, and other state constitutional officers in several states have posted their offices’ expenditures online or created more-comprehensive Web sites.

To promote these efforts, Americans for Tax Reform has created the Center for Fiscal Accountability, which is working with lawmakers, activists, and like-minded groups to enact transparency legislation.

‘Outlook Bright’

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has endorsed model transparency legislation.

“The outlook for successful passage of budget transparency legislation is very bright in 2009,” said Jonathan Williams, director of ALEC’s tax and fiscal policy task force. “ALEC will be working with our 2,000 legislative members across the nation to pass ALEC’s model legislation on budget transparency. We have a great track record in working with both Democrats and Republicans to make budget transparency a reality.”

Williams said he believes Colorado, Florida, Indiana, and Montana are likely to pass the model legislation.

Prospects for additional executive activity are also good, taxpayer advocates say.

“We have been working closely with folks in a number of executive chambers, and we’re confident taxpayers are going to be seeing results soon,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “But while we’re working to get legislators and administrations on board in places where transparency action has yet to be taken, we’re also working on strengthening existing efforts, broadening their scope and making sure that executive orders and laws that were enacted are also implemented.”

More Coming

Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, and Washington probably will launch transparency Web sites by the beginning of 2009, according to reports. Illinois and Ohio have transparency legislation pending.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) vetoed transparency legislation in 2008, but he has since created, a Web site detailing information on state expenditures, including contractual services, travel expenses, capital outlays, and other supply purchases for FY2009. The site also posts state employee salaries and benefits.

The site has received a warm welcome in the state, with the Argus Leader newspaper calling it a “huge step in the right direction.”

Missourians Concerned

In Missouri, one of the leading states in the transparency arena, there is some fear the incoming governor might want to do away with Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s transparency accomplishments.

“Missouri state government, led by Gov. Matt Blunt, has led the nation in transparency by establishing the Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP) which tracks all state expenditures including state salaries and all tax credits,” said Ed Martin, who chairs the state’s Center Right coalition and is Blunt’s former chief of staff.

Blunt created MAP by executive order, and governor-elect Jay Nixon has not embraced it. An effort to put spending transparency into statute failed in the 2008 legislative session but can be expected to be renewed, especially in light of Nixon’s response, Martin said.

Still in Infancy

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who cosponsored the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, said he believes more remains to be done at the federal level.

“We have made significant gains in the area of government transparency over the past few years, but the movement remains in its infancy,” Coburn said. “Far too much money is still spent by government officials away from public view, and until that changes, we have to press forward.

“We cannot expect agency managers to feel the pressure to spend taxpayer money wisely until they are sure they will get caught spending it poorly,” Coburn continued.

Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is government affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform and executive director of its Center for Fiscal Accountability.