Virginia taxpayers scored a big win in the 2009 General Assembly session when Gov. Tim Kaine (D) in April signed a bill putting more of the state’s budget and expenditures online in a user-friendly format easily accessible to the general public.
The budget transparency bill, “patroned” by state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax), passed unanimously out of Virginia’s Senate and House in February.
“We are thrilled to get this bill through,” said Cuccinelli. “When people of Virginia can see more clearly what’s going on in government, they can reel it in.”
Virginia’s existing transparency Web site, Commonwealth Data Point, was created in 2005 and allows access to some of the state budget online. But it does not break down the information, offers little detail, and gives no context to the numbers posted.
Builds on Existing System
The new law adds more layers of information. Most notably, it requires a consistent format for listing vendors, so expenditures to the same vendor can be easily tracked. Many legislators admitted they did not know how the budget was spent each year because the details were not readily accessible even to them.
“There is no reason for expenditures of taxpayer dollars to be kept hidden from the taxpayers,” said Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), the chief patron of an identical bill in the House that also passed both chambers unanimously. “I even had resistance when I tried to get spending details out of certain agencies, and I vote on their budgets each year!”
Won’t Cost More
Early in the legislative session the bill faced serious opposition from all parties when the Department of Planning and Budget hung a $3 million price tag on it. However, Cuccinelli worked closely with Virginia’s auditor of public accounts, Walter Kucharski, to eliminate any financial impact or additional burden on taxpayers.
Once the cost issue was addressed, the bill received support from both Republicans and Democrats.
Citizens, legislators, state employees, and the media will be able to use the new information posted on the Web site to identify wasteful spending and redundancies.
“This bill will help lawmakers eliminate wasteful spending by providing us with millions of additional taxpayer ‘eyeballs’ focused on finding wasteful spending in the budget,” said Cline.
Cuccinelli said, “This bill is part of a bigger, longer term strategy, and I look forward to moving on to the next step in government transparency. Our next step is updating those out-of-date systems. We have to keep pushing our own government to open the doors and windows wide to let the citizens see what’s going on inside.”
Krystal Slivinski ([email protected]) is vice president for government affairs at Tertium Quids, a nonpartisan issue advocacy organization in Virginia that strongly backed the transparency bill.