One of our highest priorities this General Assembly is budget transparency —putting the state's expenditures online in an easy to search, Google-like format (see our position here). This would allow average citizens, the media, business people, experts, academics, policy organizations, and anyone with a computer and Internet hookup to search the state's expenditures.
Who wins government contracts — notorious groups such as Planned Parenthood, for example? Or is the state paying for duplicate and unneeded services and wasting our hard-earned money? Within a few months of its expenditures going online, Texas found tens of millions of dollars in duplications and waste, getting into such detail as duplicate office equipment and fleet services. This should be a non-controversial issue, but as always, there is resistance by the "This is how we always do it crowd."
HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst) would put each fiscal year's expenditures online in an easy-to-search, Google-like format. It is up for consideration in the House Science and Technology Committee and it meets this Monday at 4:00 p.m. Budget transparency is a Family Foundation priority this session of the General Assembly. While the naysayers will say it is too expensive, we secured from the Treasurer of Nebraska a letter to committee members explaining how he put his expenditures online for free! (See below.) If Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and Mississippi can do it, Virginia, where the Internet was invented, should be able to do it too!
We urge everyone to contact members of the House Science and Technology Committee (they are in the link above) and urge them to pass HB 2285. In addition, if it is passed Monday, it will go directly to the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Technology Oversight and Government Activities (click here) for a Tuesday morning hearing. Those committee members need to be contacted as well.
Dear Virginia Legislators,
In Nebraska, I created NebraskaSpending.com by Executive Order in 2007. NebraskaSpending.com proves that putting a searchable budget database online could be done inexpensively without compromising its purpose.
For $38,000, NebraskaSpending.com includes information on state government dollars to be spent, state dollars received, investment operation pool, grants, contracts, and a breakdown of property taxes and state aid.
I heard the same arguments about the cost of a searchable database; we received an estimate of $1.1 million at one point. In the end, we were able to shine the light on Nebraska's budget at a cost to the taxpayer of $38,000.
Taxpayers demand absolute transparency from their government. As elected officials, it is our job to deliver it in a cost effective manner. I've seen expensive estimates like these, but in the end government can roll up their sleeves and deliver it for far less. That's exactly what we did in Nebraska.
As far as the $3 million fiscal impact statement attached to Virginia SB 936/HB 2285, I can't envision a situation in which a budget site would even approach that price range. If we can do it for five figures in Nebraska, there's no reason for anything close to seven figures in Virginia.
Shane Osborn, Treasurer
State of Nebraska