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With a unanimous vote yesterday, the Senate adopted an amendment to the Senate budget, filed by Senator Cynthia Creem (Newton), that would establish a comprehensive state budget transparency website. “This is a critical reform,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director of MASSPIRG, “which will increase efficiency, accountability and confidence in our government.”
The amendment, Relative to Transparency in State Revenues and Expenditures 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 shall be accessible to the public and updated on a regular basis.
In the private sector, internet search technology has revolutionized the accessibility and transparency of information. We take for granted the ability to track deliveries online, to check cell phone minutes and compare real estate on the Web, even to summon – at the click of a mouse – satellite and street-level views of any address. But until recently, when it came to tracking government expenditures online, we were left in the dark.
At least 22 states currently mandate that citizens be able to access a searchable online database of government expenditures. These states have come to define “Transparency 2.0” – a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.
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 (although the 2010 SW&M budget does call for some of this information), 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.
Comprehensive: User-friendly web portal provides citizens the ability to search detailed information about government contracts, spending, subsidies, tax expenditures and revenue.
One-Stop: Citizens can search all government revenue and expenditures on a single website.
One-Click Searchable: Citizens can search data with a single query or browse common-sense categories. Citizens can sort data on government spending by recipient, amount, legislative district, granting agency, purpose, or keyword.
The Senate Budget will then go to a joint House/Senate Conference Committee where the differences will be worked out before sending to the Governor. MASSPIRG urges the committee to include the Budget Transparency Web Portal in the final budget.
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