Tom Lackey: Need for a transparent state budget

Tom Lackey
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California technology has changed how the entire world lives, works, travels and consumes information. Unfortunately, our state government is stuck in the 20th century.

California passed a $125 billion budget earlier this month, but good luck finding details on where the money is going. Because of the antiquated way state government operates, it is nearly impossible to find details about state spending.

Even the lawmakers who craft the state’s budget can’t tell you exactly where our money went. One recent study ranked our state dead last in budget transparency. That is inexcusable.

Hazy budget information allows politicians to play a shell game with taxpayer money.

We saw it in the gas tax increase. With little public awareness, Sacramento politicians were able to put 30 percent of the new gas tax money to projects like rural bike lanes and job training for felons.

We saw it in the new budget as the governor raided money that was promised to health care and dental care for low-income Californians.

And we’ll keep seeing it until Sacramento gets out of the mindset that ordinary people don’t deserve to know what goes on in their government.

For an example of real transparency, we can look to Ohio. That state adopted a system that allows people to view every single state expense. You can search spending by agency, category and vendor.

The system is user-friendly, and the average person can actually understand the information it contains. Best of all, it was made by a California-based company.

I decided to give Ohio’s system a try. It took less than 30 seconds to find out, down to the penny, how much the Office of the Governor spent on travel last year. Then I tried to find the same information for California. After about 20 minutes of fruitless searching, I had to give up.

Californians deserve access to their government’s spending data. We have the sixth-largest economy in the world. We’re home to the brightest minds in science and technology.

A bill that aims to accomplish just that is making its way through the California Legislature. The Budget Transparency Act of 2017, Assembly Bill 6, would create an online database with detailed records of every dollar it spends. Finally, Californians would have access to the data they need to hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable for their spending habits.

Good government should not be a partisan issue. Everyone can support the principle that Californians deserve to know what their government is up to.

We have the resources. We have the technology. All that’s missing is a commitment to transparency from our leaders. The people of California deserve nothing less.




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