State Spending Transparency Hearing

FYI by PLS has a brief summary of a hearing yesterday on proposals to create a state spending transparency for Pennsylvania, with particular attention paid to HB 1460 sponsored by Rep. Jim Christiana (similar legislation passed the Pennsylvania Senate last month). PLS subscribers can view the full summary. Rep. Christiana also has a summary of the hearing:

For everyone else, here is what you missed:

Sandra Fabry of the Center for Fiscal Accountability led things off (her testimony is here), testifying that 25 states have already enacted such legislation, typically for very little costs, and often resulting in dramatic savings. She dismissed claims that such a website would cost several million dollars.

Ed Martin, former chief of staff to Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt testified that they created the Missouri Accountability Portal without additional funding, with current staff preparing the system. He said their site has had 20 million hits, and constituents have found several examples of wasteful spending that resulted in changes in policy. He also commented that they report every dollar spent (vs. a $5,000 threshold in the proposed Pennsylvania legislation). The Missouri site has expanded to now include state employee salaries and tax credit programs, and they are working to help local governments develop similar sites.

Rep. Kasha Kelly from Kansas testified about the creation of KanView, noting as others had that the site was created for far less cost than projected, and has resulted in savings and cuts of some wasteful spending. She added that they also have no threshold for reporting of grants or expenditures, and that is easier to do than setting a minimum. She also noted that while some “big spenders” may have opposed the legislation, when it came to a vote, there was little opposition.

The Commonwealth Foundation spoke to the need to have greater transparency, using the current budget debate as a case in point, as well as refuting argument that this information was already available online. Rep. Kathy Rapp seconded that notion, noting that it was difficult even for lawmakers to get information about what specific line items actually fund. Elizabeth Bryan’s testimony is here.

Finally, Terry Mutchler, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records testified in support of the legislation. She commented that not only was transparency a good move for government, but an online website would dramatically reduce the number of Open Records requests state departments would receive – perhaps by 30% – saving staff time and resources. She suggested that the proposed time frame in the legislation be amended, as it was important to do transparency right, not just soon (Rep. Christiana concurred, noting the timeline would be amended based on how quickly the legislation moves through the process).