Transparency is good policy, on its face. Given how much taxpayers are charged for the cost of government, we should get a chance to view the receipt. Texas has led the nation in state-level expenditure transparency, and Comptroller Susan Combs reports the savings have been substantial: tens of millions since late 2007.
The push for expenditure and budget transparency in state government was led by Texas Governor Rick Perry and Comptroller Susan Combs.
But one has to wonder why school districts, cities and counties are generally stingy about posting their expenditures online — and when they do it is often in meaningless formats that are impossible for average citizens to follow.
By contrast, Comptroller Combs’ “Where The Money Goes” website is a breeze to use.
Local entities have lobbied hard to oppose transparency requirements, saying it would be too costly. The state’s transparency effort cost essentially nothing, and has saved tens of millions.
So what are they hiding?
Maybe it’s how many lobbyists they are quietly hiring to fight against you? (Empower Texans’ Daniel Greer and Phil Fountain have been asking those kinds of questions, crunching numbers and will be reporting on their findings in the months ahead.)
Of course, there are other reasons to oppose fiscal transparency. Some bureaucrats aren’t interested in pesky taxpayers looking over their shoulders on spending decisions. Some elected officials don’t want to have to answer for the way they spend taxpayer dollars on trips. And some contractors don’t want the public to know about the sweetheart deals they get at your expense.
Let’s be clear on one thing: you have a right to see your local governments’ expenditures. Right now, you generally have to file an open records request, knowing exactly what you looking for, and phrased in just the right way, and then be prepared to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars of your own money just for the chance to see how your money is being spent.
Local governments pretend to offer transparency, while in practice discouraging citizen engagement. Local governments pretend to be open, but in practice are as clear as mud.
One thing is clear: bringing the power of more Texans to bear on the spending decisions of the state have resulted in real savings.