State improves transparency; more needs to be done


WE BELIEVE OUR PUBLIC institutions should be transparent. We want to know how our elected lawmakers vote, how workers in public office carry out their duties, how much our federal, state and local government spend and what they spend that money on.

Those are basic expectations with a democratic form of government.

That’s why it was encouraging to see that the state of Wisconsin received an A-minus in “Following the Money 2014,” a report on state government spending transparency by the WISPIRG Foundation. WISPIRG is a consumer advocacy group.

The report looks at all 50 states and how well, or how poorly, they provide online access to spending. It cites Wisconsin as “the only state that provides complete information on the public benefits delivered by recipients of economic development subsidies.”

The A-minus grade is up from an F and represents the largest increase of any state. It is mainly because of the launch of OpenBook Wisconsin that allows residents to go online and view the state’s checkbook and look at payments that are broken down by vendor name, purchasing agency or type of expenditure.

The website has more than 25 million entries dating back to fiscal year 2008 for purchases, travel and vendor payments for state agencies, the Legislature, courts and the University of Wisconsin System.

The state is planning to add state employee salary and benefit information - covering state jobs, UW, Legislature and the courts - and grants that have been awarded.

The Department of Administration estimates about 850 visitors a day go to OpenBook

Wisconsin, according to a Wisconsin State Journal story.

That’s impressive. It shows there’s an interest in how our government is spending taxpayer money. That interest and that degree of accessibility to the payments hold government officials and lawmakers accountable to their constituents. They also help fight corruption and questionable spending.

We applaud the Department of Administration for getting this handy source up and running, but out old objection remains - more information is needed, such as the salaries of workers, details on each transaction and funds returned by subsidy recipients who are unable to meet their goals.

Still, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that it’s a big improvement over the state’s Contract Sunshine website, and it’s a step in the right direction.

“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Foundation director.

He’s absolutely right, and while we’re glad to see OpenBook Wisconsin working, we look forward to improvements and additions to it. — Green Bay Press-Gazette, April 14

At issue:
OpenBook Wisconsin
Bottom line:
Making government transparent

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