South Carolina Governor Wins Broad Support for Spending Transparency Order

Published February 1, 2008

In a move that has the support of conservatives and liberals in the Palmetto State, Gov. Mark Sanford (R) of South Carolina is about to implement executive order 2007-14 mandating the creation of a single searchable Web site for state expenditures. It is to be implemented no later than March 1.

Items to be listed on the Web site include, but are not limited to, grants, contracts, and subcontracts.

The order, issued last August 30, further requires each state agency to establish a searchable Web site on its own Web page for specific agency expenditures, such as travel, office supplies, and contractual expenditures of $100 or more. Those Web sites also must be online by March 1.

Holding Government Accountable

“We’ve long believed that transparency is key to voters’ ability to hold government accountable for the decisions it makes,” said Sanford. This transparency, he added, “is particularly important given the way spending has increased in Columbia over the past three years.”

As in all states where the issue has surfaced in the past year, the efforts to increase transparency in government spending have met with bipartisan support.

‘Spreading Around Country’

Sanford’s executive order is part of a bigger trend, as he explained on a radio show hosted by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

“We didn’t come up with this idea on our own,” Sanford said. “To the credit of Americans for Tax Reform and a lot of those you are associated with, this idea has been spreading around the country.”

Fueled by passage of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, five states in 2007 passed legislation mandating the creation of Web sites detailing information on government expenditures including, but not limited to, grants and contracts.

Like Sanford, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) took executive action and created the “Missouri Accountability Portal” via executive order in July 2007. Within four months, the Web site was accessed more than 1.77 million times, showing taxpayers appreciate the new level of transparency.

Getting to Local Level

The movement for transparency in government spending is not limited to federal and state-level efforts. In Texas, 58 school districts have begun posting their check registers online.

That effort began after the Texas Education Agency opened a loophole for districts trying to avoid compliance with Gov. Rick Perry’s 2005 executive order, which required districts to earmark 65 cents per dollar of revenue for classroom instruction. The transparency idea is quickly gaining momentum, with school district residents asking for spending transparency during school board meetings.

Said Brooke Dollens Terry, education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “Texas has increasingly made transparency a priority for state spending. Yet school district spending continues to escape the scrutiny of local taxpayers. Taxpayers deserve to know where their hard-earned dollars are being spent and should not be expected to pay the bill unless they can see an itemized receipt.”

Terry estimates the 58 check registers currently posted online represent 22 percent of public school enrollment and 21 percent of public school spending in Texas.

Advancing in Florida

Local spending transparency efforts are also gaining momentum in Florida. During the 2007 legislative session, lawmakers passed local transparency provisions out of the property tax reform conference committee, but they were dropped in the final language.

State Sen. Mike Haridopolos (R-Indialantic) believes the “Truth in Spending” provisions will pass easily this year. Haridopolos serves as Florida’s Senate finance and tax chairman and majority whip. He is also chairman of the state’s Taxpayer Protection Caucus.

Playing off Florida’s nickname as the Sunshine State and invoking the wide-ranging “sunshine laws” on the books, Haridopolos said, “We have government in the sunshine, but sadly spending is in the shade. We are finally going to bring spending into that same light.”

Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is state government affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform.

For more information …

Grover Norquist’s radio program, “Leave Us Alone,” on RightTalk:

Missouri Accountability Portal: