Thursday, June 07, 2007

Spending Transparency and Accountability

It's no secret that Maryland faces a looming $1.5 billion structural deficit that will require some tough decisions from Governor Martin O'Malley and our legislature. What is too often secretive, or at least not easily obtainable in a timely fashion, is basic information about how our tax dollars are being spent. That's why during the past legislative session the Free State Foundation championed the adoption by Maryland of a single Google-like Internet search engine that would enable citizens at no cost easily to track state spending.

You can find op-eds published in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Examiner by Free State Foundation President Randolph May and Research Associate Trevor Bothwell here and here urging the legislature to enact a bill to establish such a single searchable spending website. To their credit, Delegate Warren Miller and Senator Alex Mooney introduced the "Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency Act" to do just that. Unfortunately, the bill had no support from General Assembly Democrats, and it did not go anywhere in the past session.

Now comes word that Minnesota has just enacted a law like the one embodied in the Miller-Mooney proposal establishing a public website to track state spending. This follows on the heels of similar action earlier this year by Kansas. You can read about the Minnesota and Kansas laws at a special "Show Me the Spending" site dedicated to fostering transparency in state spending. In addition to containing much useful information, such as model legislation, the site tracks information concerning the status of efforts in the states to implement searchable spending websites.

This brings me back to Maryland's projected $1.5 billion deficit. While citizens should be able to easily track state spending in good times and bad--after all, that is simple matter of fostering good government through accountability--the need to be able to do so arguably is even greater in an environment in which there already are calls to raise taxes substantially to cover state spending.

There is some talk that the legislature will meet this fall to begin to deal with the deficit. If it does, one of the first orders of business ought to be adopting the "Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency Act" introduced by Delegate Miller and Senator Mooney in the last session. The rallying cry should be: "Accountability and Transparency First!"