As taxpayers in Arizona, our hard-earned money contributes to a wide range of items – employee salaries, health care, education, public safety, office supplies. The list goes on and on.
While reasonable people may disagree on how our taxpayer dollars should be spent, we should all be able to agree that public accountability can help to ensure that state funds are spent wisely. And fortunately, according to the new report “Following the Money 2018” by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, Arizona has one of the best government-spending websites in the country – http://openbooks.az.gov/.
Why is having a top-notch spending transparency website important?
Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, a distinguished champion of transparency in the Arizona Legislature, recently stated, “When citizens, organizations, appointed and elected officials have easily accessible information on how our hard-earned taxpayer money is spent, we have a greater ability to identify and eliminate waste and duplication in government services.”
Indeed. State-operated transparency websites provide checkbook-level detail on government spending, allowing citizens and watchdog groups to view: payments made to individual companies, details on purchased goods or services, and benefits obtained in exchange for public subsidies.
Through utilization of government spending transparency websites, citizens and government officials can monitor state spending to save taxpayer money, reduce potential abuse of public dollars and prevent corruption. States with strong transparency websites often realize significant financial returns on their investment, including more efficient government administration, more competitive bidding for public projects and less staff time spent on information requests.
And in an increasingly digital world, online-accessible financial information is also a good way to enable citizens to participate in decisions about how resources are spent.
What’s next for spending transparency?
Although government spending websites across the country have come a long way in the past decade, the sites with which the average citizen interacts have also undergone significant transformation.
States can help ensure their websites continue to evolve and are usable by including features such as a fully functional search bar and hosting an in-site viewing portal for citizens to interact with data without having to download a file, itemizing spending into manageable and understandable categories, as well as standardizing department and expenditure category descriptions to eliminate inconsistent abbreviations or misspellings that may complicate finding information.
Increasingly, Arizona is stepping up and meeting citizens’ expectations for accessible spending data through the state’s budget transparency portal. Arizona’s budget transparency website excels in “real-world” user-friendliness and functionality and deserves accolades for a financial highlights webpage that includes graphs intended to clearly illustrate government spending.
Arizona is “near the top” of government spending websites. However, Arizona can be “at the top” by providing comprehensive information for all economic development subsidies, not just the Arizona Competes Fund, on its budget website and by ensuring governmental and quasi-governmental entities – even those that are entirely financially self-supporting – integrate their expenditures into the online checkbook.
— Diane E. Brown is the executive director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Tom Jenney is senior legislative advisor with the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, and can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.