A rare bright spot in this year’s Arkansas legislative session was the passage of the Arkansas Financial Transparency Act (Act 303), which establishes an online database of state expenditures—an “online checkbook,” in the parlance of the day. “What a glorious triumph for open government and transparency this will be,” someone probably said when the bill passed.
And that someone would have been right! The Arkansas online checkbook is in development and won’t be up till summer 2012. However, I came across this bit about West Virginia launching their own transparency website to lend greater openness to state spending, and it’s a wonderful tool to behold.
Why, just look at it! If those toothless hillbillies in West Virginia can set aside their coal shovels and forged Oxycontin prescriptions long enough to develop such a thing, just imagine how marvelous it will be when the best and the brightest in the Arkansas Dept. of Finance and Administration put their heads together to make one for us.
More positive news: Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, one of the champions of the Arkansas online checkbook, said in a recent interview with blogger Jason Tolbert that the site is moving forward ahead of schedule and under budget.
Our friends at the Advance Arkansas Institute have done a great deal of work on this issue, including publishing this February paper, “How Putting Arkansas’ Budget Online Saves Taxpayers Money,” (PDF) by Mattie Corrao of the Center for Fiscal Accountability. Corrao notes that, while some naysayers bemoan the fact that setting up transparency sites includes some start-up and ongoing costs, other states have actually experienced significant savings:
In Texas, Comptroller Susan Combs was able to identify millions in savings using her transparency portal. The aggregation of previously unavailable spending data made duplications and inefficiencies readily visible for the first time. The Comptroller, motivated by taxpayers’ ability to scrutinize spending, was able to eliminate $8.7 million in government waste.
Policymakers who increase transparency are often surprised by the savings that result. But transparency doesn’t just save taxpayers money: it reforms the relationship between lawmakers and their constituents, empowering taxpayers as fiscal watchdogs of their state. It is a common-sense reform that can cut costs, make citizens better informed, and streamline government.
Check out the West Virginia site for a glimpse of what the future holds for Arkansas. And it’s about time, as the U.S. Public Interest Research Group scored Arkansas with an “F” on their recent State Transparency Website Scorecard.