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Republicans advance bills requiring public disclosure on government Web sites

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted June 9 to advance two proposals aimed at allowing residents to review exactly how local governments spend their tax dollars.

Republicans on the committee, such as Sen. Al Melvin of Tucson and Sen. Russell Pearce of Mesa, spoke of sunshine and transparency. Democrats, meanwhile, said the legislation would burden local governments with unnecessary duties and costs.

The legislation, if successful, would require the creation of government-operated Web sites that would detail how much cities, counties, towns, school districts and universities spend and buy with public resources.

S1441, a proposal principally sponsored by Melvin, requires disclosure of payments, purposes, funding sources and recipients of expenditures made by local governments and public entities.

Melvin cited former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis as the bill was introduced, indicating a degree of public distrust in the way local governments spend their money.

“The greatest disinfectant known to man is sunshine,” Melvin said. “That is what this bill is about.”

Cities, counties and school districts that would be responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Web sites opposed the idea.

League of Arizona Cities and Towns lobbyist Dale Wiebush said the effort ran contrary to earlier agreements that the state would “slow down and hold off on additional regulatory items” hoisted upon local governments during the sluggish economy.

“We’ve been laying people off and cutting our budgets,” he said. “It’s a bad time for us.”

Fifteen Arizona cities have yet to launch Web sites. And cities that offer information on a Web site receive only minimal visits to pages posted with accounting information, said Wiebush.

“I’m not sure about the bang for the buck here,” he said.

Sen. Ron Gould, a Republican from Lake Havasu, said the benefits of transparency easily outweigh the costs of running the Web sites. He said his local government refused to provide a free photocopy of the city’s budget when he ran for city council in 2002.

“It only takes one community activist to go to a Web site and find something that shouldn’t be there,” he said.

Melvin shrugged off claims that costs would be prohibitive, saying there are cheap off-the-shelf software programs that provide the ability to disclose information to the public.

Pearce said he intends to get “something done this session that is meaningful to the taxpayer.”

The bill passed by a 7-4 margin, split along party lines.

S1142, a similar measure proposed by Tucson Republican Sen. Jonathan Paton, also advanced. The proposal requires the Arizona Department of Administration, in addition to cities and towns, to create Internet databases tracking all receipts and expenditures of public money.

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