Saturday, February 12, 2011

Schuitmaker, McMillin Introduce Transparency Legislation

Senator Tanya Schuitmaker has introduced SB 21, a bill to require the state to post online a free searchable database containing the details of all agency purchases, contracts and grants. State Representative Tom McMillin has introduced companion legislation, HB 4136 in the House. You can track the legislation here and here.

There is no better way to hold government accountable for the way they use your money than to open all spending to the light of day. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants...

I first introduced this legislation when I was in office several years ago. The Democrat controlled House and the Democrat governor refused to give this proposal any opportunity for a hearing. At that time the House Fiscal Agency wrote a letter to the legislature estimating a cost for implementation of $100 million. Several states have enacted transparency in government at much lower costs than $100 million. Most states have discovered the costs to be far below original estimates.

The Center for Fiscal Accountability, a project of Americans for Tax Reform finds the following on their website:

The cost for building the Missouri Accountability Portal has been estimated at $293,140. However, resources and staff were merely re-allocated and the money was taken from existing IT funds, so that there was no cost to taxpayers outside the existing budget framework.

South Carolina, too, constructed its transparency website by reallocating existing resources and staff time. And while there has been a price tag associated with Comptroller Susan Combs's website in Texas ($310,000), this site, too, was built within existing revenues.

In Oklahoma, the fiscal note for the legislation that created the spending transparency website estimated a total cost of $300,000 - $40,000 for construction and $260,000 for maintenance and upgrades. The sponsor of the legislation has since reported that the software was purchased for $8,000, and the website was built and loaded by reallocating staff time at no extra cost.

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