Thursday, September 6, 2007

Transparency Act Update (Putting the state's checkbook online)

In August I introduced House Bill 5137 as part of the Michigan Government Funding and Transparency Act, to require the Department of Management and Budget to develop and operate a single, searchable web site accessible to the public at no charge that would feature a detailed list of all state expenditures. This could be described as "Google Government". It will be an easy way for anyone with a computer and Internet access to search every dime of state expenditures.
Also in August, The Reason Foundation announced that U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) signed oaths declaring that, should they win the presidency in 2008, they will issue an executive order during their first month in office instructing the entire executive branch to put into practice the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. You can read the press release from The Reason Foundation here.
In addition to introducing this common sense legislation, which has now been enacted at the Federal level and in 5 other states, I, along with other Republican colleagues, have introduced amendments to several spending bills calling for transparency in state spending. In every case, Democrat leadership has found a way to remove the amendments from the bills on the floor.
My question is, if this idea is supported by the most liberal and the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate, and was signed into law, why won't the leadership in the Michigan House of Representatives take it up?
You can read the text and analysis of my bill (HB5137) here.
...And speaking of transparency...
In a classic example of government obfuscation and delay, here is a story that illustrates just how unwilling state government is to open the books to the general public.
Rory Mattson, Director of the Delta County (Upper Peninsula) Conservation District believes state government is bloated with administrative costs and overhead. Back in March of this year, he began to request information from the state departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality and Agriculture.  What he asked for was their complete budgets so that he could review them. The response he received was that for printing and labor costs, he would have to pay them $15,000.  Imagine, a taxpayer has to pay the state to find out how the state is spending HIS tax dollars. But that is just the beginning of the story.
As this saga unfolded, Mr. Mattson was told by some state agencies that they never received his requests. The DEQ cashed his check in March and then told him they never received the check. The DEQ told Mr. Mattson they would give him the information in the format they preferred, not in the format he requested. (He is still waiting.) He has yet to get so much as a commitment of when the information will be sent to him.
This story is very instructive. It shows in a real life example the height of arrogance of some bureaucrats.  I always believed that government should serve the people.  Apparently, there are those in state government who believe otherwise.
Imagine what it would be like if Rory Mattson could just open up his computer, get on line and look up any budget, any line item, any expenditure he was interested in.  And we wouldn't have to "kill any trees" to accomplish it.

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