Thomas Jefferson once wrote, We might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchants books, so that every member of Congress and every man of any mind in the Union should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.
Its taken a while, but policy-makers across the nation are embracing this idea.
The 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act required the creation of a free, searchable Web site of all federal contracts and grants. Up and running right now, www.federalspending.gov provides information on payments greater than $25,000. This law was co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Several states are also embracing transparency, with legislation passed in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Minnesota. Governors have issued executive orders for transparency in South Carolina and Missouri. An even more comprehensive measure, and a good model to follow, is being considered in Virginia.
But alas, state government remains opaque in Arizona. Go on, try it yourself. Look for detailed expenditure information by state agencies.
Theres oodles of stuff to look at on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Web site, but other than the information on broad trends, youre mostly out of luck. All the state agencies have Web sites, too, but good luck finding out, with any detail, how your money is spent.
Take the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, for example. On its Web site, there is a link called budget, but the document it links to was prepared in 2003. The latest budget shown is for 2004.
Imagine for a moment if every government in Arizona had to post the equivalent of its check register on the Internet. Imagine that there was one Web site where you could type in your address and get a list of every government entity with taxing authority over your property. Along with the agency name, the names and contact information of its board members, when their terms are up, and when elections occur would be provided.
All this information would make life much less frustrating for would-be activists and reformers. It might prove to the skeptical that some government programs really are working. It might prove to others that some programs really are a waste of money. It would definitely make it possible for busy, hard-working Arizonans to be better informed and more involved in the governments they fund.
With an executive order, Gov. Janet Napolitano could join Obama, whom she endorsed for president, in bringing more transparency to government. A well-drafted order could make Arizonas government as transparent as any other states by requiring comprehensive posting of individual agency expenditures online.
Byron Schlomach is director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative policy research organization in Phoenix.