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Boston – The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight passed the State Budget Transparency Bill from their Committee yesterday. The bill makes all state spending and revenue transparent by establishing a comprehensive state budget website. “This is a critical reform which will increase efficiency and promote budget accountability,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director of MASSPIRG. “By approving the bill, the committee, chaired by Representative Steven Walsh (Lynn) and Senator Brian Joyce, has taken an important step in making our government more transparent and accountable to the public.”
The bill, An Act relative to the Massachusetts Revenues and Expenditures Transparency Act, HB 2972, filed by Representatives Jay Kaufman (Lexington) and Antonio Cabral (New Bedford) and Senator Cynthia Creem (Newton) directs the Secretary of Administration and Finance to create and maintain a searchable website detailing the costs, recipients, and purposes for all appropriations, including contracts, grants, subcontracts, tax expenditures and other subsidies funded by the state government. The database will include state revenue sources and expenses including the “quasi-public” agencies. The web portal would be accessible to the public and updated on a regular basis.
“It’s high time Massachusetts made critical budget information easily available on-line,” said Pam Wilmot executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts which also supports the legislation. “It’s difficult to hold government accountable when it’s so hard to review certain spending decisions. Kudos to the State Administration Committee for moving the bill forward.”
In the private sector, internet search technology has revolutionized the accessibility and transparency of information. We now take for granted the ability to track deliveries online, to check cell phone minutes and compare real estate on the Web. But when it comes to tracking government expenditures online, we are often left in the dark.
At least 31 states currently mandate that citizens be able to access a searchable online database of government expenditures. These states have defined the new standard of budget transparency and accessibility as comprehensive, one-stop, and one-click.
Massachusetts has only barely begun to take full advantage of the benefits of online transparency for tracking government revenue and expenditures. The commonwealth maintains a website which allows the search of some government contracts online. It compiles an annual tally of special tax breaks but does not include who gets the tax subsidies or for how much, or even if the recipients of the tax expenditures are meeting the intended purpose of the expenditure. While the current budget website now provides citizens with a view of department appropriations, it is incomplete and not easily searchable.
“In the 21st century, transparent government means so much more than declaring documents to be public record. Making information available, accessible and easy to find and understand is what citizens expect in the age of Internet. If this bill passes, Massachusetts will join 31 other states that have made government budgets transparent,” concluded Cummings.
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