The nonpartisan think tank Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana today came out in favor of a proposed interactive website that would track government spending—an idea pushed by business and conservative groups as part of ongoing budget and tax debates at the Legislature.
Republican lawmakers have insisted on implementing the Louisiana Checkbook—modeled after the Ohio Checkbook concept—this year in exchange for any support on tax measures. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has raised concerns about the idea, especially how fast it can be up and running, but has indicated it is open to it.
LaGov, the central computer system housing state government data, is still in the process of moving agencies onto the site and will take another two years to finish. The Edwards administration is citing that timetable as a potential roadblock to the immediate implementation of Louisiana Checkbook. But PAR says “much of the checkbook initiative can move forward in the short term.”
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and Treasurer John Schroder have been vocal proponents of the checkbook, pushing back against the administration’s concerns that it couldn’t be implemented right away.
PAR notes the current government spending tool, LaTrac, was built 10 years ago, and while it is beneficial, more could be done. The group, in a policy brief released today, suggests the state add several elements of transparency, like putting agency emails and other communications in a public database, making frequently requested public records more readily available and issuing annual reports on transparency.
“Advanced improvements, such as adding local government and modernizing usability, might take more time and money but are likely worth the effort,” PAR writes. “Improving transparency is a continual process, not something that can be done and forgotten. Hopefully state policy makers will agree.”
Public employee salaries should also be available online, PAR said, noting media organizations have pulled such public data onto their own websites. Ohio officials put public employee data on their checkbook website.
The group also says that while Louisiana Checkbook would “do a great service,” it would not go as far as explaining the policies or priorities behind spending.
Lawmakers heard testimony about the Louisiana Checkbook proposal today, the beginning of a special session aimed at solving the state’s $1 billion fiscal cliff.