It’s possible to get spending information on most Ohio governments. But it can take formal public records requests and time. And even when you get the documents, they aren’t necessarily complete or in a usable format.
House Bill 175 could make keeping an eye on agency and department finances much easier.
State Treasurer Josh Mandel is trying to generate support for the bill that has already passed the House and could come up for consideration in the Senate this fall.
Known as “Open Ohio,” it would authorize the treasurer’s office to create an online database that would allow Ohioans to track every cent the state government spends, from travel expenses to office supplies, using an easily-searchable format.
Mandel, during an interview with Courier reporters and editors this week, said the database would help hold politicians and bureaucrats to their word by letting the public monitor what they choose to do with state money.
“They can see when they’re traveling and if they’re staying at a Holiday Inn for $100 a night or the Ritz-Carlton for $500 a night,” Mandel said. “The more transparent government is, the more confidence people have in it, and the less cynicism there is in government.”
The proposal got bipartisan backing in the House and has the support of the Columbus-based Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group and the Ohio Newspaper Association.
While there appears to be little opposition to the bill, we would like to know how much Open Ohio would cost to implement and maintain in the future.
Mandel said those figures aren’t yet available, but the startup costs would be paid by money the treasurer’s office has saved by cutting staff and updating its banking practices.
He also said the database shouldn’t cost much once agencies got used to providing his office the information. Open Ohio could even save other state offices money because they would likely get fewer records requests.
The treasurer’s office seems like the right place for a repository of financial records. If it can be created without minimal future cost, the Senate should approve it.
Mandel’s office already maintains searchable salary databases online for public school teachers and state employees and, ultimately, he said he would like to expand the checkbook to allow people to search the spending of their school boards, city council and township trustees. Ohioans could then see which vendors get the most money and how spending compares from one group to another, encouraging thrifty and honest government.
But first things first. Mandel should give lawmakers a cost estimate for Open Ohio.
The government’s business is our business. The more convenient it is for the public to obtain information about how it spends tax money, the better. If it can be done with a reasonable investment, open Ohio’s checkbook for all to see.
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