SENATE GOP PROPOSES NEW ‘TRANSPARENCY’ WEBSITE; COULD BENEFIT TAXPAYERS, WATCHDOGS AND MEDIA
Senate Republicans recently proposed the Daniels administration unilaterally move forward without a legislative mandate on a new “transparency website” showing budgets and spending by Indiana state government.
This one-stop, one-click access to such data could save money and strengthen taxpayer confidence.
Such a site could later be expanded to offer finance plans and records of Indiana school districts and local units of government.
In a letter to Gov. Mitch Daniels, we wrote such websites “are becoming part of a nationwide trend that is both broad and bipartisan.” We noted lawmakers and Daniels are beginning to craft their final two-year state budget together and wrote the site could serve as a “lasting tribute” to Daniels’ fiscal leadership.
Senate Republicans attempted to create such a state “transparency website” during each of the past two sessions of the Indiana General Assembly, however, no final agreement could be reached during the conference committee process. Senate Republicans wanted the governor to know we remain committed to such a website and suggested his administration move forward on the project without a legislative mandate.
Our letter cites findings of a recent report issued by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and made possible by the Ford Foundation:
Increased Citizen Engagement: Americans are eager to use transparency websites. Houston officials report improved public confidence after the launch of their transparency site. The Missouri Accountability Portal received more than 13 million hits in the first 18 months after its launch.
Low Cost: Spending transparency websites can be inexpensive to create and maintain. Missouri’s website, which allows visitors to search through more than $20 billion in annual state spending and is updated daily, was created with already-existing staff and appropriations.
Sizable Tax Savings: Transparency websites can save millions through more efficient government operations, fewer manual information requests, more competitive contracting bids and lower risk of fraud. In the two years following the launch of its transparency website, the Texas Comptroller reported $4.8 million in savings from more efficient government administration. Utah estimates millions in savings from reduced information requests. The largest savings may come from prevention of waste or abuse of public funds due to enhanced public scrutiny – savings that are impossible to quantify but likely significant.
Better-Targeted Tax Dollars: Transparency budget portals allow states to track how well expenditures deliver results. Funds from underperforming projects and programs can be reinvested in more successful programs. By tracking performance of state spending, Minnesota and Illinois have both been able to recapture money from numerous projects that failed to deliver promised results.
Good Deals, Less Waste: Massachusetts’ State Purchasing Agent identifies four sources of savings for procurement officers: sharing information with other public purchasers on good deals; avoiding wasteful duplication of bidding and contracting procedures through centralized processes; enforcing favorable pricing and contract terms; and identifying and focusing cost-cutting in areas where greater resources are spent.
Even in states where pioneering transparency websites already exist, there are opportunities to improve by providing citizens more detailed information; longitudinal spending data of prior fiscal years; results and outcomes of expenditures; and township, municipal, county and local school district figures.
State leaders should keep limited resources in mind and can build an Indiana transparency site over time in four phases: 1) current state government budget and expenditures; 2) school district budgets and expenditures; 3) township, municipal and county budgets and expenditures; and 4) historical data from these entities over prior years, putting each fiscal year in better perspective for taxpayers.
Indiana Senate Republicans stand ready, willing and able to help in the creation of any transparency website for expenditures and budgets of Indiana state government, local governments and school corporations. Our goals would be to work with the Daniels administration in building a statewide transparency site that is a user-friendly, one-stop source for budget information and provides comprehensive state and local data for the benefit of Indiana taxpayers, watchdogs and media.
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