Show taxpayers the money

There has been a breakdown in public trust of government. Whether it’s stimulus rewards, bailout dollars or state appropriations, taxpayers want accountability. They want to see — clearly — how their money is being used. Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature should support Senate legislation that would give Michigan taxpayers free online access to where their tax dollars are going. That kind of transparency promotes public accountability and good governance.

 

Michigan is expected to receive around $6.7 billion from the federal stimulus package for specific things including Medicaid, transportation and education, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency. Michigan will have to compete with other states for more stimulus money. A more engaged public wants to follow the trail of stimulus funds, not to mention overall budget items. That’s not surprising given state budget deficits are now an annual ritual.

 

Under a bill introduced by Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, taxpayers could review state expenditures via a searchable Internet database. The bill would require all state agencies to provide details of expenditures to the Department of Management and Budget (DMB). The bureau would then post the details, including the name of the entity receiving funds, the amount, the type of transaction, the source of the funds and the purpose for the expenditure. DMB would have to create the Web site by Jan. 1 — available to the public at no cost.

 

This is good public policy that acknowledges the public’s right and desire to know what’s being done with its hard earned money.

 

The bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee. Committee members, should urge their fellow lawmakers to act rapidly to embrace greater public scrutiny. Similar legislation faced opposition from Ms. Granholm and other Democrats. They have argued the information is already available through the DMB’s Web site. But the information cannot be easily found on that site.

 

States like Missouri and Texas have searchable Web sites where taxpayers can follow the money with ease. The Missouri Accountability Portal, www.mapyourtaxes.mo.gov, includes breakdowns of department expenditures down to office supplies. Information is searchable across different categories and salaries of state workers are even available to the public.

 

Attorney General Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land have posted their department expenditures online. Certainly, other departments could do the same. But a law that creates a uniform system would be better for the public.

 

The successful models and software are there for the state to finally put its checkbook online. This would be a good investment. Transparency and accountability are critical to restoring public confidence.

 

— THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS