On Monday, Governor Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2282, which will require most local governments to post on the Internet extensive budget information including individual spending items. In addition, the state will have a website where a street address can be entered and, at the touch of a button, links to every unit of government with authority over that address will pop up. Each of those governments must, in turn, post information about taxes, upcoming elections, and how to contact officials for more information.
Arizona recently earned an F on a government transparency report card produced by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Fortunately, Arizona now is poised to leapfrog many states and move to the forefront of government disclosure in the Internet age.
The state Department of Administration soon will launch a website revealing state finances in greater detail as a result of a bill passed two years ago. Special districts were given a similar mandate in 2009. HB2282, championed by Representative Steve Montenegro, Senator Russell Pearce, and former state Senator Jonathan Paton, covers most other local governments including cities, counties and school districts and must be implemented by 2013.
The vision of government transparency is not complete, though. We have to make sure government releases information that is understandable and follows common sense. In addition, not all aspects of government are covered by the law; small towns have been exempted even though there are few costs involved in providing public information on the Internet. Finally, government should reveal even more than its checkbook. It should also justify what it’s spending by posting information about the actual performance of agencies and employees.
Arizonans can be happy that our elected officials took action to make sure the state rates higher than an F in transparency. But there is still a way to go before the state gets the A+ that we all deserve as taxpayers.
Dr. Byron Schlomach is an economist and the director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Piercing the Fog: A Call for Greater Transparency in State and Local Government
Arizona Legislature: HB2282