The Push for Greater Transparency

Rick Sincere has an excellent post (compete with video!) of the press conference yesterday at which a proposal to create greater budget transparency was introduced.

It’s a good step forward — Virginians deserve to know where their money is being spent and, perhaps, legislators and others will feel a greater degree of responsibility for ensuring that those funds are spend wisely.

Well I can dream, can’t I?

Politically, the measure has an interesting number of supporters. Sens. Cuccinelli and Petersen were on hand to give their backing for it, and they were joined, either in person or by proxy, LTG Bill Bolling, AG Bob McDonnell and a number of Delegates. Where is the Governor in all this? Discussions have taken place with his policy people, so he’s at least being kept in the loop, if not yet on board.

I suggest he does. While transparency alone is no guarantee that the worthies will become better stewards of our money, it does create a means through which (some) taxpayers will be able to track spending, question priorities and perhaps even offer constructive feedback. (I can still dream, right?)

Rick pulled this editorial from the Free Lance-Star, which I think frames the matter extremely well:

A couple of existent programs nibble around the edges of what the senator and his co-patrons hope to accomplish. Virginia Performs, an administration creation, rates the progress of state agencies in pursuing quality-of-life goals. The state Auditor of Public Accounts’ Commonwealth Data Point, a Web site, paints a broad-brush portrait of how state government operates, including in the budgetary realm. But both programs are deficient in the all-important “fine print” category.

Mr. Kaine should support this transparency initiative, not because it would make his life easier operationally–the measure, for example, would expose to the cyberized world the practice of some state agencies to shift funds among program accounts–but because in principle it’s the right and progressive thing to do. The money with which the legislative cardinalate and administration nabobs play government is the people’s money. They should be able to see what becomes of it, quickly and easily, every step of the way.

I think the measure’s backers had an editorial board with the RTD, too. I couldn’t find any mention of it in the online paper today (though Robert Frost manages to get a couple of inches…yeesh).

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    This is a positive development. Both Ken Cuccinelli and Chap Petersen are focused on the right issues. People can disagree on the source and amount of revenues, as well as the purposes for which they are spent. But we all should support open government. The average, but motivated, citizen should be able to dig deeply into the state’s budget to determine just how monies are being spent. And then raise hell if necessary.

    Special interest groups will hate this and try to deep six it. Transparency would threaten the “good old boys club” way of operating. Unfortunately, that still is strong in Virginia and doesn’t make much difference whether Rs or Ds are in charge.

    I won’t hold my breath, but Kudos to Ken and to Chap for an important, but overdue, step towards better government.


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Is this an example of the transparency that the Republicans yearn for?

    “Democrats failed Wednesday in an effort to prevent bills from being killed anonymously by a handful of House of Delegates members in sparsely attended subcommittee meetings.”

    Open government groups and organizations as disparate as the conservative Virginia Club for Growth, the League of Women Voters and the AARP had called for requiring recorded votes when a subcommittee acts on a bill.

    “But on a nearly party-line 45-54 vote, the first substantial policy issue vote taken in the opening hour of the 2008 General Assembly, Republicans used their majority to defeat the amendment offered by Del. Kenneth R. Plum.”

    “The public needs to know how we conduct our business,” he argued.

    House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith countered that requiring recorded votes for subcommittees would make an already heavy work load of about 3,000 bills over just 60 days almost unbearable.

    “If we go to this process, we might as well forget about subcommittees and go to hearing all bills in full committee,” said Griffith, R-Salem.

    House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong, D-Henry County, argued that a transparent legislature is more important to voters and taxpayers than a streamlined one.

    “If want to take (Griffith’s) argument that this saves time, gee, think how much time could be saved if we didn’t bother with recorded votes here on the floor,” Armstrong said.

    soooo.. was this effort by Cuccinelli and Peterson a truly legitimate “bi-partisan” effort?

    I wonder which side of the recorded vote – vote they were on…

    I guess they got over their sudden attack of greater transparency-itis

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    We can’t record record 3000 votes in 30 days but we ae going to record every HOT lane user and potentially every mile every auto drives.


  4. Al in accounting Avatar
    Al in accounting

    One of the “fine print deficiencies” of the Commonwealth Data Point site is that agencies are increasingly using Mastercard for purchases and the amount of the expense is recorded, but not the nature of the expenditure, or, in the case of personal type expenses like conferences, the state employee charging the item.

    The tales those cards could tell ….

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