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New Oregon transparency website criticized

January 8, 2010

Business News Note: On December 30th, 2009 the State of Oregon launched a new statewide Budget Transparency Website through the efforts of both Democrat and Republican lawmakers.  Those involved acknowledge that this project is just the beginning.  The Director of the Department of Administrative Service stated, “this is a solid first step in answering the public’s need for information about what state government does…”   At this early first step, not everyone agrees that is has been an error-free step as pointed out by an editorial by the Albany Democrat-Herald.   Read below:

Hasso Herring, Editor
Albany Democrat-Herald, 1/3/10

As promised, the state government launched its transparency website on Wednesday. And as some of us feared, it wasn’t all that transparent. People might want to know what the various branches of the state government spent. That wasn’t available, though, at least not yet.  Instead we got the PowerPoint slides that apparently were shown to legislative committees back at the start of the year, summarizing revenues available to the agencies. These raise more questions than they answer.

The governor’s office, we learn from one of the slides, had more than $16.5 million in “revenues” in 2007-09. How does the governor’s office have revenues? It doesn’t levy taxes and charges no fees. So where do revenues come from?

Chances are the slide meant to refer not to revenues but to appropriations. But if that’s the case, why not present appropriations for the budget period we’re in instead of the budget period that ended last June? More to the point, why not compare appropriations from one biennium to the next, so people can see how fast the cost of government is rising, of if it is rising at all?

The transparency website has a category for where the money went. But that one was still under construction on Thursday, one day before it had to be online.

When it does appear, let us hope it heeds the language of the authorizing bill, which calls for “annual” revenues and spending by agency, not biennial ones.

The slide shows that the governor’s office got most of its revenue – or appropriations – from the general fund, or about $11 million. It got about $2 million in lottery funds.

Oregonians originally approved the lottery in 1984 in order to pay for economic development, and since then expanded this to several other purposes including parks and schools. Presumably the governor qualifies for lottery proceeds because he tries to drum up trade and also worries about the state of public education and the rest of state government.

The governor’s office also got money from “other funds” and a smattering of dollars from federal sources. These fiscal details seem kind of unnecessary. One dollar looks like and works like any other. Unless agencies are restricted to spending money from certain sources in certain ways, why not simplify life and just list whatever each agency spends?

Maybe there will be a side benefit of the transparency website. It will show the ordinary citizen how complicated the organization and workings of our state government have become, so complicated that just about any claim about spending can be borne out.

Maybe the best that can come from all this advertised transparency is that citizens, confronted with the bewildering and unnecessary red tape that government has wound around itself and all the people in this state, will demand that things be simplified, unnecessary laws repealed, questionable programs abolished, and the red tape cut.

Don’t, however, hold your breath. (hh)

  
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