Sunday, January 13, 2008

Budget Transparency Catching On

Last week I wrote about proposals in the Virginia General Assembly to put all of the state's budget information on line in an easily searchable format. In his remarks at a news conference announcing the legislation aimed at achieving this goal, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax) mentioned in passing that he would like to see the same thing done at the local level, noting that Fairfax County's budget is in the $6 billion range, "a sixth of the state budget."

Cuccinelli and others at the Tertium Quids-sponsored news conference pointed toward the Missouri state government's budget web site as a model for Virginia.

Now other states are riding the budget transparency wave, too, including Missouri's neighbor, Oklahoma. On his blog, which often deals with state issues in his home state, Nevada political activist Chuck Muth writes about what's going on in Oklahoma:

The Sooner State has joined a growing number of government entities openly embracing budgetary transparency by putting its finances online. Its Open Books website is “loaded with information” which enables taxpayers to determine for themselves if their tax dollars are being spent wisely.

Granted, the website is a work in progress. Far more detailed information is needed and surely will be provided eventually. For example, “Miscellaneous Administrative Expenses” should be broken down into specific expenditures, to whom and for what purpose. But this transparency website is light years ahead of anything Nevada taxpayers currently have at their disposal.

Open Books is a searchable website which mirrors the budgetary database being created at the federal level thanks to bi-partisan legislation co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Democrat Sen. Barack Obama. It’s the latest in a growing movement to use this Internet thingy Al Gore invented to help taxpayers see for themselves if they’re getting all the government they’re paying for, and then some.

This is an idea whose time has come...
As I previously noted, the legislation to make budget transparency a reality in Virginia has already been submitted for consideration by the General Assembly in this session. Delegate Ben Cline (R-Amherst) has introduced HB1360, with the short title "Searchable budget database website," while Senator Cuccinelli has introduced SB585, with the same short title.

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