Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Friday, June 08, 2007
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Downing Joins Colleagues Calling For Transparency In State Government Spending With State Facing Deficit, New Legislation Would Create Accountability

Boston – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) announced this week that he has co-sponsored new legislation to open up the fiscal books of state government through an electronic website, enabling citizens to review and inspect items of state spending.

Drafted by State Senator Bruce E. Tarr (R – Gloucester), this late-file petition is entitled " An Act to Provide Accountability and Transparency in the Finances of the Commonwealth," and is largely based on a federal law that was passed in 2006 and authored by U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL). Downing observed that "if the federal government can provide spending transparency in its budget, there should be no reason that Massachusetts can't provide the same mechanism of public fiscal oversight."

The legislation authorizes the Secretary of Administration and Finance, the Comptroller, the Treasurer and the Operational Services Division to develop and operate a single searchable budget website. The website would:

· allow the general public complete access to research state expenditures;
· be made freely available;
· minimize cost;
· maximize utility;
· and promote the accessibility of information.

"Every tax dollar in Massachusetts was earned by hard working people in the Commonwealth," said Downing. "This user-friendly electronic tool will put the power to understand state spending in the hands of anyone with an interest in where our dollars are going, and where our spending priorities are."

The primary function of the website would be to allow the public to become more engaged and aware of how state funds are spent. The sponsors of the bill hope that the website would further contribute to the development of a so-called "Spend Management System" to allow state and municipal purchasers to share information and gain a significant advantage in the marketplace. Such a system would enable managers to identify spending trends, combine purchases of commonly procured items or services, and share resources where possible.
When I see anti-tax zealots demanding pointlessly symbolic and arbitrary caps on tax rates, I usually like to point out that the vast majority of the Commonwealth's budget is allocated by law and cannot be changed on a whim. However, where there is pork and inefficiency, statutes like this can go a very long way in trimming what little fat actually exists. (And it has the potential to expose relationships that might not be considered kosher by the voters.)

As Wes would say - Good on ya'.

(Article from Senator Ben's newsletter)
It would be very helpful if the infomation is presented in a way that the average tax payer could understand. And if they can do that, then their next step should be to produce a tax code that the average tax payer can understand
Snoop - good point on the "jargon" and the tax code. I know Rahm Emmanuel, the Democratic Caucus Chair, has talked for some time about making tax reform a major issue for Democrats. For some reason, there's a knee jerk reaction against it in some liberal circles. The truth is, the codes a mess and could use a good cleaning.

RE: this legislation I have co-sponsored. I am a firm believer that we will only build consensus around tough policy choices, when we in the legislature take every step to show the public that we have gotten our own fiscal house in order. Sacrifice can't be a one way street.

That being said, I insisted to Bruce Tarr that he be the State version of Coburn and I be Obama, otherwise I wouldn't sign on.
Ben - That is refreshing to hear. Best of luck and consider this little patch of grass/net-roots to be strongly in your corner on this one.

Hopefully the comparison of Senator Tarr to Senator Coburn stop at the similiarities of the State and Fed transparency bills. Coburn is slightly to the right of Attilla the Hun. I can't imagine that even the hardest of the hard-right legislators in MA even come close to being that far off the reservation.
Thats definitely where it stops when it comes to Bruce Tarr and Coburn. Bruce is a good guy. Might not agree with him on everything, but he definitely has his heart in the right place.

RE: Atilla the Hun. Ever wonder who first said "Elected official X is to the right of Atilla the Hun" (I've also heard the same phrase used with Ghengis Khan)? I can imagine someone dropping it at a bar and everyone just pausing then nodding in approval.
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