Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Transparency Update"

House Bill 4722, a bill introduced by Representative Dan Scripps (D) 101st District, calls for "transparency" in government. The good news is, his bill was reported out of the Government Operations Committee today. This is the first transparency legislation to make it to the House floor. The bad news is, it does not go as far as it could.

HB 4722 calls for mandated reporting of expenditures, number of employees, list of state contracts, department budgets, the annual financial reports, job specifications and wage rates. The problem is, all of this information is already available on the State of Michigan web site.

What the bill does not mandate is a free, searchable database containing the details of every expenditure by each state department and agency, including the name of the entity receiving the funds, the amount, the type of transaction, the budget source of the funds, and a description of the purpose expenditure as spelled out in HB 4121, introduced by Representative Tom McMillin. His bill defines "expenditure of state funds" as the expenditure of all appropriated or non-appropriated funds including purchases, contracts and subcontracts, and grants. Essentially, the bill requires the state to make public its "check register" in an accessible form.

Unfortunately, 4121 is trapped in committee with no hearing scheduled. While I applaud Rep. Scripps for putting this bill out there, I am hopeful that the House, or the Senate - if they get the chance - can amend this legislation to provide the same kind of information that is easily obtained in at least 20 other states already. After all, the legislature owes it to you taxpayers to let you know how state government is spending your money.

Transparency: Too Expensive to Implement? Not Necessary?

The Michigan Department of Information Technology has claimed it would cost $150 million to implement transparency. And yet, South Carolina accomplished it for under $100,000 with the same software systems Michigan uses!

Another claim by the administration is that information is already available on the website. I disagree. But rather than take my word for it, try it for yourself. Here are three state web sites. You decide: Is information easy to find in Missouri and South Carolina? How about Michigan?

Michigan   South Carolina   Missouri

Once you have completed your experiment, feel free to find your lawmaker and encourage them to show you the money and pass HB 4121. Don't forget, it's your money they are spending.  Find your legislator here.


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